Ireland and France played out a 13-13 draw at the Aviva Stadium, with the questionable decision to replace Conor Murray changing the game.
Ireland started brilliantly and scored the opening try in the tenth minute. Having won a line-out in the French half ploughed their way through the defence, with Jamie Heaslip ultimately getting over the line for 5-0 lead. All eyes soon fixed to Paddy Jackson, with the young Ulsterman facing a tough conversion. However, Jackson nonchalantly kicked the ball straight between the posts to a mixed eruption of delight and relief. The perfect start for Ireland and a 7-0 lead.
France were stunned but, as oft-times before, Ireland gifted their opponents a chance to reduce the deficit. The recalled Michalak took the kick, but to the relief of the Irish fans, he was off-target. It was a bad miss that reflected the individual errors that have become common-place during France’s campaign.
Ireland continued to improve and were awarded a penalty on twenty minutes, following an infringement during a ruck. Jackson, obviously full of confidence from his opening kick, decided to go for the posts. Sadly, the out-half was off-target and dragged his kick to the left.
The miss was a wake-up call for the French and they began to exert pressure on the Irish pack. Alas, the inevitable penalty came when the Irish scrum collapsed. Michalak took his opportunity this time and reduced the arrears, 7-3.
Jackson displayed great character when opting for another long-distance kick on 29 minutes. He confidently stroked the ball over, swiftly putting his kicking woes against England behind him.
The Ulsterman, exuding confidence, increased the lead to 13-3 with another fantastic kick on 32 minutes. A carbon copy of his earlier effort, Jackson made no mistake and sent the ball right through the posts. 13-3 Ireland.
France improved for the remainder of the half, resulting in another chance for Michalak right on the stroke of half-time. However, the French out-half’s laboured performance continued and a missed penalty meant that Ireland went in at the half ten points to the good, 13-3.
The second-half started with Fergus McFadden putting a huge hit on Louis Picamoles. The crowd erupted and the hit was indicative of the excellent work-rate exemplified by all in an Irish jersey
Ireland were awarded another long-range penalty, following a harsh call by the referee, Steven Walsh. Jackson’s strike was accurate, but lacked distance and an opportunity was lost.
A quick tap-and-go from Conor Murray on 49 minutes exploited the French defence, and Ireland began to build phase after phase. However, France recovered and set their defensive line brilliantly to repel the Irish onslaught. The ball was eventually fed to Rob Kearney but his drop-goal attempt was way off. A missed opportunity, but a good period of creativity from Declan Kidney’s side.
France were awarded a kick-able penalty at a scrum on 53 minutes. The pressure of the missed-kicks was clearly playing on Michalak’s mind and Parra took over the kicking duties. The scrum-half made no mistake and reduced the arrears to a converted-try. 13-6.
Parra had a chance to reduce the deficit even further on 57 minutes, but a woeful kick saw the ball swing left and miss by some distance. A much-welcomed reprieve for Ireland.
The rain continued to pour in the Aviva but catches from Conor Murray and breaks from Seán O’ Brien ensured the Irish fans were in full voice.
Luke Fitzgerald was introduced for Fergus McFadden and Conor Murray made way for Eoin Reddan on 62 minutes. The decision to replace Murray was a questionable one, with the scrum-half performing brilliantly in the second-half. The illogical nature of the decision made all the more evident by the surprising look on Murray’s face.
Both sides traded errors for the next ten minutes with neither team capitalising. France’s decision-making was amateur at times, with Les Bleus resembling a junior side rather than a team that played in the World Cup final less than two years previous.
Ian Madigan made his bow for Ireland on 71 minutes, with Luke Marshall leaving the field following a heavy hit. Brian O’ Driscoll, Ireland’s leader for so long, also needed to be helped off the pitch and the disappointment was clear in the Leinster man’s face. It looked like being an untimely end for O’ Driscoll in what could possibly be his last home game for Ireland.
The loss of Ireland’s two centres was felt immediately, when a quick French tap-and-go led to Picamoles touching down for a try. Strangely, Michalak decided to resume the kicking duties. He made no mistake and levelled the game on 75 minute.
However, O’ Driscoll made an unexpected return to the match and the Aviva erupted. The centre’s decision to return to the battle epitomising the fearless attitude of Ireland’s greatest ever player.
Ireland dominated the last five minutes but could not penetrate the French defence. An Irish turnover with less than a minute on the clock led to a French penalty. However, the hot-and-cold Michalak decided against going for the posts and ultimately nothing came of the opportunity, with the game finishing 13-13.
Sadly, Eoin Reddan had to leave the field of play on a stretcher following a bad injury. It was terrible to see, with Ireland’s injury woes continuing to mount.
The performance was full of positives, but Kidney’s decision to replace Conor Murray was baffling. It clearly had an impact on the game and allowed France to take control. The Irish players showed great character and their intensity levels were top-drawer.