Ireland clinch Six Nations in Paris

2014 Six Nations Champions 

There would have been no shame in defeat, and yet no solace either. All week the question was which France would turn up; the clueless team of individuals or a ruthless try-scoring operation. The truth was somewhere in between. Individual brilliance with just enough cohesion to make Ireland sweat to the last.
Ireland gave themselves headaches at times, particularly in the first half. The kicking out of hand, which Ronan O’Gara stressed beforehand would be so important, was marginally off. In a game to decide the outcome of the Six Nations, small margins can be crucial.
Two tries and two awful kicks at goal. If it wasn’t for the elbow to the head from the 18 stone Mathieu Bastereaud, Jonathon Sexton would remember this game for a long time. Thankfully he was able to join in the post-match celebrations even after being stretchered off in the 65th minute. Irish fans chewed nails as his replacement Ian Madigan took to the field. Preferred on the bench to Paddy Jackson today, this was his first appearance in the 2014 Six Nations. 
With Jordi Murphy the only sub not to take to the field of play, Ireland were left with a good deal of inexperienced players to close out the game. While the scrum lost some of its ballast after the withdrawal of Ross and Healy, in open play Ireland were to a man committed and disciplined until the end. It’s expected of the old hands. It’s a joy to see it from the next generation.
The French, as is their wont, woke up from their Six Nations slumber today. Switched on from the start, they took a 6-0 lead before two quickfire tries from Sexton and Trimble put Ireland ahead. The home side’s response was swift and sublime. A crossfield kick from Tales was parried beautifully by Huget back for Dulin to dot down. The second of Sexton’s missed kicks ensured France went in one point to the good at half time.
The second half was as tense as they come, with neither side letting up in the intensity. Ireland struck first, with a break from Trimble finished off by Sexton with assistance from the O-Apostrophes.
These are the players by which the golden generation of Irish rugby is defined. Captain Paul O’Connell was immense today. It’s a mark of the man that when you see blood on his face during battle you’re never quite sure if it’s his. He threw himself into tackles with the usual vigour, and made laughable last year’s notions that he was a spent force.
And then there’s O’Driscoll.  He was involved in much that was good about Ireland today. While there’s perhaps an argument that Andrew Trimble deserved the man of the match award today for replicating his Ulster form, it was only going to one person.If anyone thought he would go quietly into the international rugby retirement home they were mistaken. And if BOD himself thought he could waltz quietly into the Parisian night at full-time, he too was wrong. A French interviewer attempted to cajole the outside centre into “one more year.” O’Driscoll smiled and shook his head. As retirement parties go, this one takes some beating.
O’Driscoll held it together during his interview with RTE until he brought up the influence of Joe Schmidt. The respect he has for the former Leinster coach was clear to see. It’s a mutual respect, as evidenced by the Ireland head coach’s assertion that “we’ll get someone to fill (O’Driscoll’s) boots, but their feet might be a bit smaller.” Indeed.
Late on there was a sense that France might spoil the party. A try from hooker Szarzewski  had Irish fans covering their eyes. However a horrible penalty miss followed by a late forward pass with men over on the right wing denied Les Bleus a win that would have handed England the Six Nations championship.
In Rome, tears surely trickled down tuxedos as the English squad watched on helpless. Like Ireland in 2007, hammering Italy on the final day just wasn’t enough. Theirs is a good team with a capable manager. The World Cup next year is on their territory and they will not capitulate easily.
Ireland under Schmidt have raised the bar high for themselves. The New Zealand game showed they could compete with the best. Today showed they can concentrate for a full 80 minutes plus. There must be no let up between now and the World Cup. Those who have earned their first caps must muster such intensity every time they pull on the green jersey. The hardened veterans must hold on to the hunger for more silverware. For tonight though, it’s time to celebrate. Gordon Darcy’s beard will soon be no more.
A championship clinched in Saint Denis on St Patrick’s weekend. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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