Six Nations 2014: Ireland Beat France To Win Title
Ireland needed to win in France for only the second time in 42 years to pip England, who also finished with four wins, on points difference.Jonathan Sexton and Andrew Trimble scored tries for Ireland in the first half but Ireland trailed 13-12 at the break, Brice Dulin having crossed for the hosts.
After the restart Sexton and Dimitri Szarzewski exchanged tries, Jean-Marc Doussain missed a late penalty and Damien Chouly had a last-minute try disallowed for a forward pass.
It is only Ireland’s second Six Nations title and the first since they won the Grand Slam in 2009. Defeat for France means they finish fourth in the table.
It was a fitting way for O’Driscoll, playing his 133rd Test for Ireland and 141st in total, to go out after 15 remarkable years at the top of the game.
O’Driscoll was given a rapturous welcome by the Stade de France crowd and it proved to be an emotional farewell for him and the travelling Irish faithful.
In between it was never likely to be easy for Ireland, whose last victory in Paris came in 2000, when O’Driscoll declared his greatness to the world with a stunning hat-trick of tries.
Scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, forming France’s third different starting half-back pairing of this year’s tournament alongside Remi Tales, kicked the first points of the game after Chris Henry was penalised for not releasing at the tackle.
France looked sharp in the opening exchanges, making Ireland play in their own half and competing with gusto at the breakdown.
Philippe Saint-Andre’s side, who were given a fearful drubbing by the French media in the build-up, also seemed to have extra pep in their attack.
And when Mathieu Bastareaud ran over Gordon D’Arcy, France should have had their first try, but the giant centre threw a wild forward pass.
Ireland slowly chiselled their way into the game, Sexton working an opening with a cute inside pass to Dave Kearney, who made a half-break.
But when the winger became isolated attempting to run the ball from his own 22 and was penalised, Machenaud put boot to ball to double France’s lead.
O’Driscoll received treatment after tackling marauding French hooker Dimitri Szarzewski, but the French front row were also being given headaches by their Irish counterparts and the first two scrums ended in penalties for the visitors.
The second of those penalties led to the first try of the match, Henry finding Sexton with a back-of-the-hand pass from the base of the scrum and Ireland’s fly-half scurrying over from five metres out. Sexton missed the conversion.
Ireland did not have to wait long for their second try. Scrum-half Conor Murray broke through a couple of weak French tackles and having found Trimble inside him, the Ulster wing galloped over unopposed.
This time Sexton added the extras, but France hit back almost immediately.
Having had several darts at the Irish line off the back of a line-out drive, Tales kicked diagonally and Yoann Huget tapped the ball back brilliantly for full-back Dulin to score in the corner.
Machenaud’s conversion gave the hosts the lead again but Ireland should have led at the break, Sexton missing a relatively straight-forward penalty kick on the stroke of half-time after Thomas Domingo infringed at the breakdown.
France looked better for the rest at the start of the second half, the recalled Louis Picamoles blowing a hole in the Irish defence with one carry. But when another French attack faltered shortly after, Ireland hit them hard on the counter.
Trimble found O’Driscoll outside him and for a second it looked like the Irish legend might go out with a try, but he was brought down just short of the line. But the French defence was slow to reorganise and Sexton scampered over for his second try of the game. And this time, he made the conversion count.
Sexton increased Ireland’s lead to nine points with a penalty, France having infringed at a maul, only for Szarzewski to score at the base of the posts after a prolonged period of pressure by the hosts and set up a thrilling finale. The plot became thicker when replays suggested Szarzewski had knocked the ball on.
Bastareaud, who had a mighty game with ball in hand, delivered Sexton a knockout blow after 68 minutes, meaning Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt had to throw the inexperienced Ian Madigan into the game.
Replacement scrum-half Doussain had a chance to nick the lead for France with 10 minutes remaining but pulled his fairly simple penalty effort wide of the uprights.
And France should have stolen the win with a minute remaining but Vincent Debaty’s final pass to Chouly, who was in acres of the space on the right wing, was correctly adjudged to have gone forward by the video referee.
It was a monumental defensive performance by Ireland and proof that Schmidt’s ageing outfit still has plenty to offer and could be a factor at next year’s World Cup – albeit without the iconic O’Driscoll among their ranks.
France: Dulin; Huget, Bastareaud, Fickou, Medard; Tales, Machenaud; Domingo, Szarzewski, Mas, Pape, Maestri, Picamoles, Lapandry, Chouly.
Replacements: Mermoz for Fickou (75), Doussain for Machenaud (66), Debaty for Domingo (41), Guirado for Szarzewski (68), Slimani for Mas, Flanquart for Maestri (53), Vahaamahina for Picamoles (66), Lauret for Lapandry (75).
Ireland: R Kearney; Trimble, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, D Kearney; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, Toner, O’Connell, O’Mahony, Henry, Heaslip.
Replacements: McFadden for D’Arcy (66), Madigan for Sexton (68), Reddan for Murray (63), McGrath for Healy (70), Cronin for Best (70), Moore for Ross (63), Henderson for O’Mahony (63).