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This was grim to watch and another we let slip

By Tony Ward

Maybe we're getting grumpy in old age but on an entertainment scale of one to 10 Ireland's 13-13 draw with France rated a generous three.

Perhaps we're expecting too much of professional players in atrocious conditions like those prevailing in Dublin 4 on Saturday evening but certainly for this observer at least here was a second successive draw between the countries best forgotten.

I accept both sides were under pressure, both coaches even more so but if this is where test rugby is heading you can have it.

If endless, aimless kicking is your thing then you were in seventh heaven. It is a long time since I have wanted a game to end way before its time.

And not, I might add, in the hope that Ireland might shade it but because the rugby was so brainlessly boring.

We had thought the issue of aerial ping pong had been addressed by the IRB when empowering match officials to rigorously apply the offside law to players ahead of the kicker moving even one step forward.

Well whether that strict enforcement (which certainly yielded instant results) has been lost in global translation the end product is the woeful fare we witnessed on Saturday.

Of course you must cut your cloth on days like this but when both teams are adopting the identical brainless tactics driven by fear then what you get is a mishmash of meaningless rugby.

It is a long time since I have come away so disillusioned from an international game other than when Ireland have been beaten out the gate.

And if that seems a tad unfair then guilty as charged. Yes there were positives with the Rory Best/Donnacha Ryan lineout radar working to maximum efficiency right from the off. The lineout, such a disappointment in Edinburgh, was right back to its efficient best a fortnight on irrespective of whether it was the outstanding Ryan, Peter O'Mahony or Sean O'Brien on the receiving end.

On the back of such an abundance of possession out of touch the Irish driving maul was again the lethal weapon we know it can be.

With Jamie Heaslip, so much more prominent throughout and the last to emerge for what was the definitive forward try just 12 minutes in, there were indeed definite signs of the Ireland of old.

Mix in Conor Murray's assertive control and much more varied kicking at the base and this was an Irish unit singing off the same sheet as it had in Cardiff.

Paddy Jackson too looked confident and in control with that three from five goalkicking return providing the boost so essential for him to kick on from here.

With Jonny Sexton destined for Oz and Jackson along with Ian Madigan set for the US and Canada it would appear, despite the denials, that Ronan O'Gara's long and distinguished Ireland career may indeed be at an end.

Against that was a second half in which we lost our way, failing to score and conceding 10 points in the process culminating in the second successive draw.

It would be easy to say the French deserved it but save for the final salvo they appeared disjointed, disorganised and even at times disinterested. The decision to run with Freddie Michalak as operator in chief continues to amaze.

To his credit the scrum-half turned out-half showed great courage when stepping up to the final conversion but quite what was the process that determined him first choice kicker ahead of Morgan Parra and main tactician ahead of Francois Trinh-Duc is beyond me. Certainly from the hour mark on the massive French attendance were voicing their displeasure at one aimless kick upon another.

Not that we were any better in that period. This was real hot potato stuff of the 'here you have it' variety.

Although only trailing by seven and with a full 15 minutes left on the clock I found myself looking at a French team and wondering where a match saving try might possibly come from.

The handling conditions were extremely difficult that's a given but from Michalak out they were shapeless and clueless in most everything they did.

We weren't an awful lot better but did appear at least to have a predetermined strategy to drive us along.

Whether it was outside runners on the switch leading to either blindside wings on the inside angle they were at least appropriate to the conditions. The French by comparison appeared rudderless and clueless beyond the kick and hope.

The cynics can argue it the right result but given the paucity of France right now this, following on from Murrayfield, is another one that got away.

Quite whether Keith Earls was or wasn't pushed in the late in-goal chase is almost an irrelevancy. But let's give credit where credit is due and say that for the outstanding rendition of their rousing pre-match anthem –which made you wonder which was the home team – they got to leave with something but if this is where professional rugby is taking us you can have it.

Belfast Telegraph


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