Early defence key to Ireland's success claims Gatland.
Ireland's historic 27-25 Six Nations victory over France was won thanks to a backs-to-the-wall performance during the first 20 minutes when a rampant France looked like taking their visitors to the cleaners. That was the verdict of both the victorious Irish camp and the defeated French as Ireland posted their first triumph in Paris against the hosts since 1972.
Ireland coach Warren Gatland said: "It took us 10-15 minutes to get to the pace of it, we were saying we just needed to stay in the match."
His captain Keith Wood was even more candid about what was a torrid opening for the Irish, who looked like they might cave in as France launched wave after wave of attack. The hooker said: "The first 20 minutes was the fastest I have ever known. I was shell-shocked but delighted to see that after 20 minutes we were not losing by 20 to 30 points. The crowd kept us going. To hear 'the Fields of Athenry' sung like that in Paris was just great," said Wood.
Gatland's French counterpart Bernard Laporte agreed that the failure to convert that early supremacy into points proved fatal. "We were raging but we did not score. We did not get the necessary lead to stop us being exposed later in the match," bemoaned Laporte.
"I think that all during the second half the Irish never let up," said french captain Fabien Pelous.
"We were not lacking in physical courage but we did not have the physical means. We got tired and Ireland were always faster to the ball than us."
The Irish camp believed that their traumatic 50-18 thrashing in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham at the hands of England stood them in good stead for the opening French onslaught. Since then the Irish have spanked Scotland and Italy in succession. But in that opener Ireland had folded in the opening minutes and manager Donal Lenihan said: "The first 15-20 minutes was like Twickenham, we had no ball and we were conceding a lot of possession. "But we had learned from Twickenham and players like (scrum-half) Peter Stringer knew exactly what to do."
The historic nature of the triumph was not lost on Gatland or Wood. "It's a pretty pleasing day," began New Zealander Gatland in his trademark understated manner before showing some rare elation."It's a great day for Irish rugby - I think we'll enjoy ourselves tonight," said the former All Black.
Wood admitted that this season had been the finest of his career, eclipsing even his part in the successful British Lions tour of South Africa. "Being on a winning team with the British Lions has been my best rugby moment but that has probably changed in the last six weeks. The last two
months have been fantastiv."
While O'Driscoll's hat-trick undoubtedly stole the headlines Gatland believed the groundwork of the victory was laid down by two more unsung heroes. Gatland gave due credit to O'Driscoll - and also a mention to winger Dennis Hickie - but went on: "I thought Peter Clohessy was outstanding and Mick Galwey. The contribution they have made to Irish rugby is outstanding - I'm absolutely delighted for those two."
Wood, in contrast, praised the role of the backs, who for once stole the limelight from Ireland's much-vaunted forwards."An awful amount of talk has been about the Irish pack, but that's because (until this season) we haven't been giving them (the backs) any ball. This year we've started giving them some ball. It was not great ball today but you can give them any amount of praise you like," said Wood.
Laporte admitted that the fact that he had to field a weakened team - mainly through injury and partly through suspension - may have played a part in the defeat. "This fragile team did not have enough players playing in their right position," said Laporte.
But Laporte also had harsh words for his team, saying: "What annoys me most is that we had seven or eight players who are the best in their position in the world. That's what annoys me.
"It's obvious that we did not play well. We must watch the video (of the match), we must analyse, look at things calmly."