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O'Driscoll gets a perfect send-off

Sat, 15 Mar 2014 19:08
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Costly errors
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Brian O'Driscoll heads into the sunset of retirement as a Six Nations champion, after Ireland edged France 22-20 in Paris on Saturday.

The three tries to two victory at Stade de France, in Paris, handed the Six Nations championship to Ireland on points difference from England - after the two countries finished level on the standings with four wins each.

And O'Driscoll will retired in the knowledge that he managed to twice win the title in his illustrious career.

It was game of nip-'n-tuck in which France raced into an early lead and Ireland fought back to lead by nine points going into the final quarter, only for the French to come back again.

In the end it was their own errors - a missed penalty and a forward pass - that cost the French victory.

But nobody will mind the Irish win, given that it gifted O'Driscoll the perfect send-off.

The French scrum was under pressure, so much so that Thomas Domingo was replacement at half-time after conceding a number of first-half penalties.

Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip also towered in the line-outs. But it was at the breakdown and on defence where Ireland did most of their damage.

Ireland looked nervous and tentative in the early exchanges, allowing France to take a 6-0 lead with two penalties by Maxime Machenaud in the second and 15th minutes.

However, once Ireland's nerves had settled they showed why they were title contenders - two quick tries putting them in the lead.

First Jonathan Sexton went over in the 22nd minute. France were penalised at a scrum and Sexton set up a line-out. Conor Murray sniped around the fringe of the line-out and made good ground. Chris Henry then took it up to the five-metre line and Ireland strung the phases together until Sexton crashed over. The flyhalf added the conversion to give Ireland the lead.

Four minutes later Andrew Trimble went over. From a scrum Brian O'Driscoll had a strong run. Murray broke away quickly around the fringe, beat a tackler and drew the last defender to send Trimble over for a simple try. The conversion was wide - 12-6.

Just past the half-hour mark France regained the lead. Pascal Pape won a line-out ball and France mauled it. They rumbled towards the line, with Nicolas Mas having had a crack and was stopped short. France then sent it to the backs, where Remi Tales launched a cross-field kick towards Yoann Huget, who tapped it back in field towards Brice Dulin, who collected and dragged a tackler over the line with him. The TMO had a number of looks before awarding the try. Machenaud added the conversion - 13-12.

Sexton had a chance right on half-time to reclaim the lead, but he missed a sitter - leaving France to take a one-point (13-12) lead into the break.

The second half started much like the first - Ireland making nervous errors and France looking full of running.

However, the first try after the break came from almost nothing - a ball spun wide in almost innocuous fashion, before Andrew Trimble sprint down the right wing on an overlap, passed inside to Brian O'Driscoll, who was brought down just metres from the liner. The ball was recycled and Sexton sprinted through a huge gap for his second try.

Sexton slotted the conversion and a penalty minutes later to make it 22-13 with about half-an-hour to go.

With just under 20 minutes remaining the French launched a furious raid on the Irish line, with a couple of penalty advances, a penalty and numerous forward rushes finishing in a try being awarded to hooker Dimitri Szarzewski four ground the ball against the base of the post. However, replays suggest it may well have been a knock-on. The Machenaud conversion made it 20-22.

With 10 minutes to go replacement scrumhalf Jean-Marc Doussain had a chance to regain the lead for France, but badly sliced his attempt.

And with two minutes on the clock No.8 Damien Chouly was over in the right corner, but he was denied - referee Steve Walsh and TMO Gareth Simmonds combining to determine that the final pass was forward.

That turned out to be the most costly mistake of them all, as Ireland held on to give Brian O'Driscoll the biggest and best send-off.

Man of the match: The sentimental choice would be Brian O'Driscoll, and he wasn't half bad - certainly worth considering. Jonathan Sexton was a mixed nag, displaying some great skills, but also missing a few easy kicks. You can look at the work of Louis Picamoles, the muscle of Pascal Pape, the kicking of Maxime Machenaud and the powerful bursts of Mathieu Bastareaud as valuable French contributions. However, our award goes to veteran Ireland lock Paul O'Connell - who produced the most amazing workrate, the highest tackle count in the match bar one player, well into double figures, took numerous line-outs without losing any, and won a couple of crucial steals.

Moment of the match: There were numerous crucial plays - that missed penalty by Jean-Marc Doussain, Pascal Pape's forward pass and Dimitri Szarzewski's try that wasn't a try. However, our award goes to Jonathan Sexton's second try, in the 48th minute - coming after a great run by Andrew Trimble and Brian O'Driscoll. It gave Ireland the lead they needed at a crucial stage in the game. France fought bravely, but just could not closer that gap.

Villain of the match: It was not so much for villainy, but for the amateurish nature of his mistake - French lock Pascal Pape's forward pass that denied his team the match-winning try.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: 
Dulin, Szarzewski
Cons: Machenaud 2
Pens: Machenaud 2

For Ireland:
Tries:
Sexton 2, Trimble
Cons: Sexton 2
Pen: Sexton

Teams

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Rémi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Louis Picamoles, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 21 Wenceslas Lauret, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

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