Ireland got their 2009 Six Nations campaign off to the best possible start, beating their modern bete noire France, 30-21.
A game is a long time in rugby, 18 months is even longer. It was then that Ireland was culminating preparations for the World Cup, before being physically overpowered by Scotland.
It was this loss that began a puzzling fall from grace for Irish rugby. A terrible World Cup campaign was followed by a less than impressive 2008 Six Nations which ended with a 33-10 thrashing at the hands of the English.
This saw Eddie O’Sullivan move on, allowing the Munster Arch mage Declan Kidney to take control of the team.
It was not obvious what their fault was, as they still had all of their key players, and were able to compete with the best teams in the world.
However, they struggled against the physical power of their opponents (especially at the ruck) and could not achieve the most important single factor in sport, that of winning games.
In France, Ireland saw at Croke Park a literal representation of this pain. Here was a team that in 2004, 2006, and 2007 been the only team between three Irish Six Nation Grand Slams; this was a Les Bleus outfit that had inflicted seven consecutive defeats on the Emerald Isle.
But this tide has been turned, with Ireland recording a well earned 30-21 victory over their perennial conquerors, a triumph that was all the sweeter for the performance that the French played.
Ronan O’Gara opened the scoring after two minutes with a penalty. Les Bleus could not gain possession in the opening exchanges, but as the half drew on, the attacking venom of the French began to gain more menace.
The French forwards looked to exert their dominance, led by Imanol Harinordoquy and Sebastien Chabel, both who had monstrous games. But for all of the physical presence of the strong French pack, it was matched by the vaunted Irish pack, laced with the mighty men from Munster.
But it was the only two men in the pack who are not clad in the Munster red that truly stood high. Ulster’s Stephen Ferris and Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip both had titanic games that would have given them early ticks on Ian McGeehan’s British Lions backrow selections.
The game was ultimately decided by the performance of the two respective backlines though.
Lionel Beauxis was excellent, supplying a near complete Toulouse backline with constant ball and sublime angles. The Stade Francais stand off’s first game in Blue since the World Cup showed that if Marc Lievremont is willing to be consistent with selections, France's issues at 10 are finished.
There was also the trademark attacking genius displayed by France's three quarters, who were fed far too much ball due to some wayward tactical play from the usually reliable O’Gara.
But, aphorism in Ireland says that if Brian O’Driscoll has a strong game, so do the Irish. It was possibly the best performance in a Test match that the green clad talisman has ushered, all the more stunning considering the class of his opposing centres, the twin Toulouse dreadnoughts of Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz.
This was accentuated by the sublime second half try by BOD as he ran a vintage attacking line to slice open the French midfield and then glide past their last line to give Ireland a lead they would never relinquish.
Unlike his own fly half, the Irish captain was brilliant and decisive with his kicking accuracy, a neat little grubber kick late in the second half giving the Irish the momentum to mount an attacking play that killed off the French hopes.
A try that was scored by centre replacement Gordon D’Arcy, who had a fine match, illustrating the depth the Declan Kidney has at his disposal in the back division.
As BOD has now stated, one match does not make a championship, but was obviously pleased with the victory over the team that has haunted their quest for European dominance.
Enough was shown by Ireland to show that they will legitimately challenge for the 2009 title, and only victory against Italy at the Stade Flaminio will have the masses talking up their pedigree.
Meanwhile Lievremont, who has stated that he will likely leave his side unchanged for their clash against Scotland, hardly has a crisis on his hands. They were defeated by probably the best Irish performance in two years and will no doubt take scalps as this tournament unfolds.
Tries: Heaslip, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy
Cons: O'Gara 3/3
Pens: O'Gara 3/5
Tries: Harinordoquy, Medard
Con: Beauxis 1/2
Pens: Beauxis 1/1
Drops: Beauxis 2/2
(Halftime: Ire 13 – Fra 10)
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary , 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Tom Court, 18 Mal O'Kelly, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Gordon D'Arcy, 22 Geordan Murphy.
France: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Lionel Nallet (c), 4 Sebastien Chabal, 3 Benoit Lecouls, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Lionel Faure.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Nicolas Mas, 18 Romain Millo-Chluski, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 Benoit Baby , 22 Cedric Heymans .
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
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