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Disappointment etched on Irish faces at the end
Inpho/Billy Stickland
What The Papers Said
2 February 2007, 10:37 am
By Pat Geraghty
"The bounce of a ball was a popular refrain afterwards, not least by the Ireland coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, and as Croke Park witnessed yesterday, the bounce of a rugby ball can be particularly capricious and cruel. writes Gerry Thornley in The Irish Times today.
" The reality is that Ireland did not play especially well from the start. They will assuredly lament not having a real go and perhaps making even more daring use of their backs and, at the end, they know better than anyone that they had the winning of the game, had they secured the restart or kept Clerc and co out. "That," continued Thornley, "will only add to the pain."

However, accepting that, "it's hard to think of one ( a defeat) that ranks or rankles on this scale, however many years you go back."
Thornley refused to attribute this French victory to luck, "In truth, it couldn't be called a steal. Nor even could it be attributed to a bounce of the ball. Even on Lionel Beauxis's 78th-minute restart, with France trailing 17-13, no less than competing for the ball, once Yannick Jauzion snaffled up the breaking ball they still had to manufacture the score. With typical French daring, they did just that as few Test teams on the planet can.

Also in The Irish Times Keith Duggan remarked that, " it was as though nobody ever considered there could be anything other than a perfect ending. The French, of course, did not care for the Irish symbolism behind this match or for this ground. Ireland's past is none of their business. They let us down in 1798. And yesterday, they let us down again.

The luck of the Irish ?" queried Robert Kitson in The Guardian, " It was conspicuously absent at crucial moments in Dublin yesterday but critically, so was the composure that might have allowed Eddie O'Sullivan's team to mark an historic occasion with an equally memorable victory."

"Ireland lost this game and their Grand Slam dream because they made such a tactical mess of the match in the crucial third quarter at Croke Park." complained Peter Bills in The Irish Independent.

However, his colleague David Kelly felt those dreams "foundered upon one of this sport's more primeval uncertainties - the uncertain bounce of the oval ball." Kelly however felt that, " beneath the facilely related ruins of that fateful Vincent Clerc sashay through a befuddled Irish scrambled defence which sealed a fifth successive win against Ireland for the French, lay more substantial truths. A first quarter where a shapeless Ireland couldn't get their hands on the ball and then coughed it up in set pieces. Or the two penalty goals spurned in the second half when it seemed adrenalin coursed harder through Irish hearts than solid reason."

Also in the Independent Billy Keane reported that "Croke Park was a funeral parlour, a vale of tears. No team deserved this. Our boys gave it everything only to be denied by sorcerer's bounce from that last restart.

His colleague Vincent Hogan remarked how the French refused to buy into the history and hype of the occasion, "So Ireland lost at the first time of asking in the vast, northside Elysium, beaten by a team that simply removed itself from all reverence and ceremony. They took their demeanour from Sebastien Chabal. The moment Ireland made their entrance, strolling out to shuddering applause, the French number 8 caught Serge Betsen in a clinch. Paul O'Connell almost brushed against them, but Chabal and his back-row partner looked at nothing but each other. The gesture was almost ceremonial. France would not spill an ounce of themselves to the preliminaries."

"It is always heartbreaking to lose a game that appears in the bag," wrote Charlie Mulqueen in The Irish Examiner, " but when the dust has settled on yesterday's thrilling Six Nations game at Croke Park, the fact that Ireland were never quite as convincing as they needed to be will surely be appreciated. The truth is that, just like in Cardiff a week previously, Ireland made far too many unforced errors in the opening half hour, letting the French off the hook at crucial times when in attack and uncertain and disorganised when forced on to the back foot. Individual Irish players will have their games dissected and in some cases roundly criticised. It would be difficult to escape the fact that some failed to step up to the plate but it was as a team that Ireland failed. That's a fact that was being gradually accepted as the evening wore on. "

In the same newspaper Donal Lenihan remarked that "there are rare occasions in sport when even the result is dwarfed by the occasion. Croke Park yesterday was one of those special days." The former Irish international admitted "Not since Michael Lynagh scored in the corner in the final moments of the 1991 World Cup have I felt so devastated after a game. One can only imagine how the players felt."

He felt that when "Ireland look back on this game they will rue their inability to cope with the French challenge in the opening quarter. The hosts never got out of the blocks and seemed overwhelmed by the significance of the occasion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the set piece, with Imanol Harinordoquy succeeded in robbing Ireland's first line-out throw. This was followed up by a ball against the head in the first scrum."

But Lenihan was full of praise for Ireland's response to a poor start, "It says everything about Ireland's fighting qualities and resilience that the French failed to score again until the last act in the drama. For Ireland to close the margin by two points at the break as a result of an outstanding Ronan O'Gara try was incredible in the circumstances. Ireland's discipline under pressure after half time was remarkable and incredibly France were never afforded a kickable penalty in the entire second half."


Perhaps appropriately, the final word to another former Irish international, Irish Independent rugby writer Tony Ward, who felt that "for guts and resilience, if the Croke Park victory we craved had come our way it would have been no more than the remarkable second half comeback deserved."

However, said Ward, "in the cold light of day, with honest analysis, there can be no denying that however heart-wrenching the fashion, the better team playing the better rugby eventually got it's reward."

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