France hang on to defeat Ireland
February 11, 2006
Aurelien Rougerie races in to score France's opening try
© Getty Images
When David Marty crossed for his second try and France 's sixth in the 48 th minute it was natural to turn to the reference books and start speculating how far beyond previous records the French would push their 43-3 advantage.
Twenty minutes later the search was on again, the question this time being whether Ireland could bring off the greatest comeback in the history of international rugby. In a truly astonishing transformation the Irish had scored four tries in 13 minutes - two from Ronan O'Gara either side of one from Gordon D'Arcy, whose transformation from hapless first-half fumbler to second-half guided missile reflected that of his team - before Brian O'Driscoll's surge and half-break allowed him to send replacement Andrew Trimble in under the posts.
It couldn't go on that way. France final woke up to the danger and Ireland were overtaken by tiredness, an injury which had O'Driscoll first limping then reluctantly leaving the field to be replaced by debutant Eoin Reddan, and perhaps the realisation that they were about to do the impossible.
But this schizoid contest - 'un match bizarre' in the words of the stadium's post-match interviewer - will leave both sides uncertain what to think. Ireland will curse the self-destructive streak that saw them give away tries from a charge-down and two interceptions and worry about the early demolition of their scrummage, but will take pride in an immense revival and the performances of players like Peter Stringer and David Wallace who continued to compete through the worst of the French deluge.
Bernard Laporte saw immediate benefit from his five changes, who scored four tries between them including the first three inside 17 minutes - wing Cedric Heymans claimed the other two, including one within three minutes of the second-half restart - but will be concerned both at the way his team switched off and yet another wildly uneven performance by outside-half Frederic Michalak, who enjoyed the first-half but had a nightmarish second, being jeered by the Stade crowd for a series of miscues with the boot before Laporte finally introduced the prosaic but solid Benjamin Boyet for the final 13 minutes.
The opening exchanges of the match had been reminiscent of those at Murrayfield, with France handling fluently. But where those moments had been as good as it ever got for the French against Scotland , what followed here was to be very different.
Taking a scrum against the head has become one of the great rugby rarities, but the French demolished Ireland on their first two put-ins and from the second moved rapidly to their right where Christophe Dominici timed and angled his entry from full-back perfectly to create enough space for Aurelien Rougerie to charge unstoppably to the corner. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde missed the conversion, but had no difficulty making amends in the seventh minute after a second try that combined opportunism with pace and fine support play.
Frederic Michalak chased a long 22 drop-out down the left, Dennis Leamy and Geordan Murphy impeded each other, leaving the French outside-half a clear run to the line. Instead he cut inside and sent Olivier Magne charging over under the posts.
Any assumption that things could only get better for France was disproved ten minutes later as Ronan O'Gara was marginally slow in getting a clearance kick away and David Marty charged down to became the third of Bernard Laporte's changes from the team at Murrayfield to score within 17 minutes. Elissalde converted and it seemed wholly typical of Ireland 's day to that point that when France fumbled the restart and Gordon D'Arcy burst out of the ensuing scramble to cross the French line the score was disallowed for an earlier knock-on.
Ireland , to their credit, did not disintegrate but - given little alternative but to take a few risks - attacked with some fluency and vigour. And they should really have scored in the 22 nd minute when O'Driscoll broke down the right with Horgan free outside him but, in what looked like a genuine attempt to draw the defenders in rather than selfishness - held on slightly too long and was smothered by two tacklers.
An O'Gara penalty at least got them on to the scoreboard, but was cancelled out immediately as Ireland offended at the restart and Elissalde extended the French lead to 22-3. And yes, it could get even worse. Murphy's pass was intercepted on its way to O'Driscoll by Cedric Heymans, who had an unopposed run to the line for another Elissalde conversion and a 29-3 interval lead for France .