NOW that’s what you call a real test of your credentials.
Ireland came, they saw, and they fell just short. However, they can feel very assured that all they are doing is steering them in the correct direction. Their game-plan is solid without being so unyielding that it has no room for evolution.
I don’t think there will be anybody more disappointed than the Irish players who battled so hard in Paris on Saturday evening, but they can have no complaints or issues as they were beaten by a more rounded side.
France won because they were bigger, stronger and most importantly their discipline was better. It is a very uncharacteristic statistic for Ireland to lose out in that area, especially against the hot-blooded French.
Seven of the 10 penalties that Ireland gave away were conceded in the first half and when you have a place-kicker with the accuracy of Melvyn Jaminet, if you transgress anywhere within sight of the posts, he will be more than happy to step forward and punish you.
Judging from Andy Farrell's post-game interview, I don’t think he was so happy with Angus Gardner’s interpretation of the laws, but there is no use in crying over spilled milk now. To be successful in the test arena you must be clever to the point where you can bend the rules and get away with it. This is probably still an aspect of advancement that needs working on.
International rugby is ruthless where nice guys get swallowed up very quickly and if Farrell is going to lead this Irish team to trophies, he needs to take a leaf from the books of coaches like New Zealand’s Steve Hansen and South Africa’s Rassie Erasmus. These guys have a policy of doing whatever is needed to emerge as winners and that’s why they are both World Cup-winning coaches.
When you find yourself 10 points down after seven minutes, 15 points down just after the recommencement of the half time whistle, outscore the winners three try’s to two and end up just falling short of crossing the finishing line by a single score (30-24), you can feel very satisfied that your players' efforts were of the highest level.
It seems that every year the players who are sent forward to represent their country in the international arena are getting bigger and more powerful. Many of the bone-crushing confrontations that transpired during this game on Saturday had me wincing on my sofa and scratching my head wondering how the human body can take such a pounding and remain industrious.
At one stage in the first half Ireland's most prolific ball-carrier Tadhg Furlong took the ball in full flight and when he made contact with the French defensive line, he was halted dead in his tracks as if he had just run into a solid concrete wall.
Ireland's scrum and line-out also came under an immense amount of pressure, so when you factor in all of these anomalies to come very close to winning away from home to the best team in Europe you really should be looking at the glass half-full.
When the news of Johnny Sexton’s unavailability for this game broke on Wednesday last, many thought Ireland should not even bother turning up, but Ireland can no longer be placing all their hopes of winning trophies around two or three individuals.
To win any competition you simply must have at least three players in every position who are capable of functioning at the highest of levels.
I think Connacht’s Jack Carty is a better player than Carbery and offers more of an X-factor. However, I am not privy to seeing how these players contribute in a squad environment and to be world-class, you must also be a leader.
This game was never going to be an easy contest for either side and I would think that France will push on now and win the championship. Whether or not they go on to win a Grand slam is debatable because of their volatile away-from-home form but they certainly have the personnel to do so.
The next time the Irish players run out as a team will be against the Italians in two weeks and it is imperative that Farrell continues to build on the great work he has done so far.
I would rather see Ireland win this game by one point with a fresh look to the team’s makeup than watch them trash their opponents by 50 with the same side that ran out in Paris.
Let Carbery start at 10 again, give Craig Casey a start over Gibson-Park and surely the Wycherley brothers or Gavin Coombes must be in the mix. I’d even go as far as to suggest promoting one or two of the Irish U20s who are playing brilliantly.
Flanker Reuben Crothers, who captains the U20s, was immense on Friday night and with Perter O’Mahony nearing his limit on the odometer, these are the kind of players that will allow us achieve new heights.
With three more games ahead of Farrell before he hands back the players to the provinces, I think he has done wonders with this squad.
I just hope that he continues to experiment with how he instructs the players to go about their business.
Watching Ireland play under his guidance is a breath of fresh air.