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O’Driscoll leads Irish to big victory over France

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Back in the big time after nearly a year on the sidelines following a badly broken arm which at one stage threatened to end his career, D’Arcy’s role might have been a cameo as Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll led the way for Ireland with outstanding performances, but when he lunged for the line after coming on as a replacement midway through the second half, a first victory over France since 2003 was as good as in the bag.
And what a victory it was. The Irish survived a first-half onslaught from the visitors who positively bristled with attacking intent to somehow lead by 13-10 at the interval, but they then kicked on with the sort of self-belief that was sorely missing from the recent autumn series.
You couldn’t say there weren’t one or two nerve-wracking moments as France poured forward in the closing stages, yet you felt that for a change, Ireland were in control of their destiny. If this success wasn’t altogether perfect – too much hard-earned possession was kicked away by Tomas O’Leary and Ronan O’Gara – it was still particularly sweet following seven defeats by the French in the space of six seasons.
The result also went some way to erasing the memory of Vincent Clerc’s dagger to the heart in the dying seconds at Croke Park in 2007, and now coach Declan Kidney and his squad have some real momentum going into Sunday’s game in Rome against Italy who suffered a heavy 36-11 defeat by England at Twickenham.
That fact that this was an enthralling contest made the Irish triumph all the more worth savouring. Even if France did manage to create a lot of havoc, the home defense was heroic. Only O’Gara, who kicked 15 points but had a quiet game by his high standards, suffered the embarrassment of being bounced a couple of times. From the tireless Luke Fitzgerald out on the left wing all the way through to David Wallace, the winners’ tackling couldn’t have been faulted.
There were plenty of hurlers on the ditch who reckoned that Denis Leamy should have been in the starting line-up given Heaslip’s modest form for Leinster, however, the number eight more than justified his selection with a storming display.
Heaslip scored a magnificent try coming up to half time when he surged through the French rearguard, and desevedly won the man of the match award.
Meanwhile, everyone who had held forth on O’Driscoll’s waning powers were forced to park their doubts at the start of the second half. Admittedly, the French out-half Lionel Beauxis’s attempted tackle left much to be desired, but when O’Driscoll connected with O’Gara’s inviting pass, the blistering acceleration of old was there once again.
Ireland’s captain sensed Julien Malzieu covering across, but instead of passing, he left the wing for dead with the most sumptuous of sidesteps. A sublime 33rd international try might just be his most important as another Lions tour looms into view.
There was much more from the captain this time as well. His defense, especially in the first half, was astonishing. Tackle after tackle, a shuddering hit on Beauxis, and a turnover he had no right to win when engulfed by French forwards was evidence if evidence was needed of his immense value to the side.
“You can’t win a Six Nations in the first game, but you can lose it,” said O’Driscoll. “We’ve played one game, we’ve won one game, and we’re happy with the performance. Granted France are top-class opposition, but let’s not get carried away. Ronan just threw the ball out for my try and it was there for me. I could do it 10 years ago okay, but it was nice at 30 to be still able to score like that.”
With the understated Kidney at the helm, there is little chance of the players getting carried away. From the disastrous 2007 World Cup, through the last Six Nations and even into the autumn, the squad’s attitude and confidence have been in question, but there was no shred of doubt over the commitment last weekend.
And although D’Arcy wasn’t prepared to allow his return overshadow Ireland’s heartening victory, O’Driscoll heaped praise on the try scorer. “If people knew what he went through over the past 11 months, just setback after setback. He’d get himself, and then he’d be told he’d have another two months, then another three months. So, to see him back almost 12 months to the day on an international pitch and scoring tries, I couldn’t be more pleased for anyone.”
With reigning champions Wales predictably beating Scotland by 26-13, it’s possible that Ireland’s game in Cardiff on 21 March could pan out as the Six Nations decider. But maybe with just one victory in the bank, that is getting carried away.

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