The Mole thought in the build-up to the game that the absence of Yachvilli was overplayed by some commentators. Parra is such an accomplished operator in his own right, and is perhaps a little more dangerous as a runner. However, Yachvili has a wealth of experience that Parra can’t yet hope to compete with, and it showed in a couple of circumstances.
In Tommy Bowe’s second, abortive intercept attempt [which occurred off a French lineout thrown to the enormous Maestri at the tail] the Ulsterman is in the Irish defensive line for a good 15-20 seconds: he doesn’t race there from his typical defensive position as a surprise. From the moment the lineout assembles – and it’s slow to do so – he’s there, standing as the first man in the backline. No disguise.
A more experienced scrum-half notices that [or failing that, his outhalf sees it and tells him] and pops a low rolling box-kick over the lineout and down the line into the enormous empty space for a winger to chase. What’s more – and this seems so basic that it’s almost silly – the French players can tell each other this without giving the game away, because they speak a different language from the opposition. Trinh-Duc can tell Parra that there’s a big gap behind the lineout, and Parra can tell Malzieu what he’s going to do, and nobody on the Irish side is any the wiser.
Trinh-Duc just did not have a good game, and seemed unable to figure out how to counter the outside-in Irish backline defense and quick linespeed. Fofana bagged an opportunistic try, his third touchdown in three games in his first championship, but other than that he struggled to get involved. Aurelien Rougerie, who was earmarked as posing a huge threat to Keith Earl’s nascent stint in the No13 jersey rarely got the ball with anything like the space or momentum
It wasn’t just Trinh-Duc. As a team, the French seemed intent on attacking the No10 channel, presumably under instruction from their coach. However, Jonny Sexton put in probably the best defensive performance from an Irish outhalf of the professional era. Hyperbole? Look at the evidence. Sexton was instrumental in no fewer than three turnovers in the first half alone:
- 03:20 Rougerie – Sexton and Ferris hold up the big French centre on the Irish 10m line in a textbook choke tackle, are joined by D’Arcy, O’Connell and O’Callaghan and are awarded the scrum by referee Dave Pearson for a static maul.
- 18:03 Malzieu – Sexton takes on the big French winger near halfway at the end of a lineout and together with Rory Best and Sean O’Brien drives him back for 4-5m before the maul becomes static and Dave Pearson awards Ireland the scrum.
- 31:28 Fofana – In the middle of the pitch, Sexton and Sean O’Brien combine to hold up Wesley Fofana. They’re joined by D’Arcy and Ferris in the choke tackle and Dave Pearson awards the turnover.