France win but fail to fizzle
February 13, 2011
France's Maxime Medard is engulfed by his team-mates after scoring against Ireland in Dublin © Getty Images
France's defence of their Six Nations crown is alive and well but for the second week in a row they must be grateful for the generosity of their opponents.
Last weekend the French were able to feast on Scotland's turnovers while this time around it was Ireland's indiscipline that gave Les Bleus a priceless advantage. Rarely will France be outscored by three tries to one and come out on top but such were Ireland's shortcomings when the pressure came on.
France were far from their best and at times looked lethargic and rarely woke from their slumber. This was not the menacing France that had run the Scots ragged in Paris and for long passages they played within themselves as if a favourable result was a foregone conclusion. The sign of a good side is one that gets the job done even when they are not playing well but it was not that France were not performing to the level we know they can - which they weren't - it was more that they were not engaged at all.
Winger Maxime Medard's third try of the Championship proved to be the pivotal score of a see-saw contest. The French back division were stuck in second gear for much of the game but as with all good sides, and this current France side is certainly talent-heavy, they have the ability to switch it on in an instant. Cue a powerful direct running line from centre Aurelien Rougerie that proved too much for Irish centre Gordon D'Arcy which in turn allowed Medard to coast home. But there was precious little invention such as this.
While France's backs failed to fizzle their forwards posed a more formidable threat with man of the match Thierry Dusautoir leading by example. He had some able cohorts in No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy and lock Julien Pierre and together they had a large hand in the errors that would prove costly for the hosts. But while packing a punch the French defence was still guilty of lapses as the try count shows with their frailty around the fringes becoming a real problem. They have now conceded an incredible 13 tries in their last three Tests which should have the alarm bells ringing especially with defensive coach Dave Ellis. That kind of charity will not bring them the Championship crown and will also see them fall by the wayside at the World Cup.
Apart from the result there will be little to please coach Marc Lievremont from the absent-minded opening to their own handling errors and their failure to crank through the gears. There is evidently plenty to work on and the victory and battling qualities shown by his side will only bring so much comfort. His side have gone backwards but having ridden their luck they find their Championship challenge intact.
Ireland were a vastly improved outfit compared to the one that flirted with an embarrassing defeat against Italy in Rome. That scare and a return to home soil brought about an impressive transformation with France rattled by the explosive intent shown by the hosts in the opening exchanges. That renewed vigour soon brought them reward with the try for Fergus McFadden and their endeavour would also see Tomas O'Leary cross before the break. But in between they coughed up a succession of penalties that undermined their efforts elsewhere.
The homes side's determination to atone for a shaky performance last time out often got the better of them with hands, feet and minds guilty of going astray. And with a boot as clinical as France's Morgan Parra they were always going to pay. Make no mistake - this was a major missed opportunity for Ireland with their failure to seize it perhaps best summed up by the result of their last minute rally. With the French defence splintered and numbers gathering on his outside, replacement prop Sean Cronin threw himself at the wall that was the French defence and came off second best, spilling the ball and with it his side's final chance of rescuing the game.
A victory over France would have provided a huge psychological boost to Declan Kidney's squad but instead they must reflect on what is their ninth defeat in their last ten meetings with their rivals. Tries will bring a crowd to its feet but victories will keep them happier for longer especially when the winning habit and momentum is so important with a World Cup looming. But this was a step forward for and the intensity and adventure they showed will surely serve them well in the weeks and months to come.
Ireland's hopes of a Grand Slam disappeared with this loss and they must now set their sights on the Triple Crown and hope that they can derail England's bid for Grand Slam glory - unless France get there first.
Following the often-cited Jekyll and Hyde form guide that accompanies France they are due to hit their straps next time out against England at Twickenham. But sadly we have two weeks to wait for that mouth-watering match-up.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
When the Lions toured South Africa in 1974, some thought rugby could break down barriers. But John Taylor refused to make the trip altogether
"I think in a couple of seasons London Irish can be a genuine force and contenders for the Premiership." Tom Hamilton talks to Brian Smith
"I hate this talk of survival, we are going there to compete." Tom Hamilton talks to London Welsh's Justin Burnell and Matt Corker
The latest Week in Pictures takes in Madagascar, Nick Cummins and all the latest photographs from Super Rugby