AS games of rugby go, you’ll need to go a very long way to see a better one than this.
Normally when you have two sides that are very close, you end up with both teams petrified to take any risks or to play with any kind of freedom. Not on Saturday.
This one had everything. Power, pace and skill were all mixed together with a fearless sprinkle of ambition that in the end gave us a finished product that the modern game craves so much; it will go down in history as one of the best ever Six Nations encounters.
France arrived in Dublin with one of the biggest set of forwards ever to grace the field and half-backs that are viewed as the best in the world. They had beaten Ireland in their three previous outings but really needed to produce a performance of substance after their appalling display against Italy last week.
The only disappointment was the reluctance from referee Wayne Barnes to furnish the 145kg French prop Uini Atonio with a red card after he thundered into Rob Herring. Atonio made clear shoulder contact with the hooker’s head, but was only brandished with a yellow card because Barnes believed the incident to be in the range that displays “a low degree of danger”.
On Saturday he got this one completely wrong. If World rugby is serious about player welfare, incidents like this must be irradicated.
Ireland started where they left off last week in Cardiff and while they didn’t register the first points on the board, they did get the first try.
The brilliant Hugo Keenan was afforded a magical passage through the French defensive line when a training ground move was executed with pinpoint accuracy and the slick Irish number 15 backed himself all the way to the line. Credit must also go to Finlay Bealham who offloaded inside to the Leinster man with immaculate timing.
After that, the game only got better and France hit back with a try of their own that no other side in the tournament could have mustered up.
Eventually, Ireland took a six-point lead into the halftime dressing room after two more wonderful tries from James Lowe and Andrew Porter.
It didn’t take long after the restart for the visitors to start off-loading the bench considering that they had gone with a six-two split with their substitutes. Clearly, their plan was to batter Ireland into submission because their forward replacements were actually bigger than the ones that had started!
The second half wasn’t as exciting but the pace and intensity remained relentless and it was Ireland who had the confidence to stay steadfast to the game-plan that Andy Farrell has masterminded for them.
It was great to see that Craig Casey and Ross Byrne were afforded the opportunity to see Ireland home.
The more time the lesser established players get on the pitch during this competition, the greater our chances of making it beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup are going to be. I now call on Farrell and his coaching staff to start both of these players against Italy in two weeks.
Man of the Match Caelan Doris was simply immense in all he offered on the day and his contribution towards Gary Ringrose’s try that afforded Ireland their second try bonus point in consecutive weeks was simply derived by the man’s ability to never give up working.
The final score of this epic encounter will go down in the record books as 32-19 in favour of Ireland, and for me, it is a very fair reflection of how the game played out.
Ireland are now unquestionably the best team in the world and their ambitions of winning a World Cup are as realistic as New Zealand, South Africa or France. However, there is a hefty price to pay for having the number one tag dangling from your dressing room door.
I feel that we have to lose a final before we can win one and considering we have never made it beyond the quarter-finals, there is still much work to be done before we can start to dream.
Well done Ireland, well done Johnny Sexton and all the players.
And well done Andy Farrell because you have now brought us to a place that was never deemed possible.