Ireland’s draw in Paris was underwhelming after leading by 11 points at half time but the Six Nations has a distorting effect and the result seems better the day after.
While Ireland used be almost guaranteed to win in Cardiff when all else was losses, and beating England has recently become a spring ritual as welcome as the first daffodils poking their heads above the soil, Ireland don’t win in Paris. That has become a truism and changing it will be the job of Irish rugby coaches over the next two decades. Ireland displayed a purpose and a stickiness about their task that was well approved around at Mole Towers. Beating France on a regular basis would catapult Ireland into a different league because it would change the nation’s rugby Mental. Not losing is a good interim step.
Viewed over a longer time frame, the tide has risen for Irish rugby. A draw in Paris without O’Driscoll inspired heroics is a notable improvement on what went before. The great man is missed but others are stepping up to try and fill the void. The most obvious of these is O’Connell. It is possible that the Lions will have more Welshmen than any other nation next season and that Warburton will be the seen as the natural appointment as captain but it seems to me that Paul O’Connell has never played better. His Munster performances this season have been the finest of his career while his last two Irish matches have been superb. He looks fresh after missing most of last season and Brad Thorn’s arrival is a reminder that second rows have long shelf lives.
How many other players can join him at such exalted heights remains to be seen. Rory Best was highly conspicuous around the park yesterday but Ireland coughed up lineouts at vital times. Admittedly, there’s a lot going on in lineouts but these both looked Best’s doing. Rob Kearney was generally outstanding on Sunday but opened up the park for France with his loose kick in the lead up to Fofana’s try. Sean O’Brien looked pissed off to have been substituted by O’Mahony and had impressed in his 7 duties.
Ireland lacked a bit in midfield. D’Arcy isn’t the force of old while Earls hasn’t been afforded many opportunities to get on the shoulder of a half break. There doesn’t seem to be many alternatives. McFadden for D’Arcy is a possibility at 12 but wouldn’t seem to change that much. Darren Cave’s injury is unfortunately timed, while O’Driscoll’s return would be greatly welcomed.
Scotland will present a tough challenge for Ireland and Kidney needs his team to produce the same level of hunger. Given Kidney’s consistency of selection, consistency of performance is a quality that has eluded his teams and seems an irritating contradiction. Ireland gave it a lash against France and reproducing that purpose will give a well lubricated springtime crowd something to shout about.