Last Friday’s clash between France and Ireland in the Six Nations was not just another rugby game; it was a battle of redemption, a test of resilience, and a showcase of talent.
As thoughts now turn to Round Two and echoes of the thrilling encounter still linger, it's evident that only one team truly banished their World Cup hangover; Ireland.
From the onset, the game was shrouded in hype and anticipation. Both sides were eager to make a statement, but it was Andy Farrell’s troops who emerged as the dominant force.
Yes, they faced the 14 men of France for a significant portion of the match but they showcased superiority in every aspect of play.
“It felt good at times, certainly the first 30 minutes felt really, really good,” said captain Peter O’Mahony.
“We felt like we were all over them defensively, like our attack was rolling, and our lineout was going well, but at the same time, there were areas there, like in the last 10 minutes before half-time when we backed up a couple of penalties, where we put ourselves under pressure so we’ve plenty to work on.”
This weekend Ireland face Italy, but the win against France represents more than just a fleeting moment of glory; it's a symbolic exorcism of the ghosts of World Cup disappointment.
Losing to New Zealand in Paris five months ago would have hurt but their commanding performance last week serves as a tangible testament to their resilience, determination, and unwavering belief in the process
Farrell was pleased with his side’s display although he sees room for improvement: “It [the Grand Slam] is not won or lost at this stage, but it is about building on this win.
“It’s nice to get the victory and with it being a nine-day turnaround now [to the Italy game], that will be good for us.”
Farrell also commented on how important Ireland’s mental strength is: “There is no end to achieving the right mental capacity to be the best team that you want to be. It is something that we value as huge in our psyche.
“Over the years, it has always been about physicality and getting one over on your opposition, but being accurate with your decision-making and your physicality because of those decisions, is something that we constantly strive to get better at.”
And one can not understate the significance of Jack Crowley's temperament at fly-half. In Marseille, the spotlight was on the 24-year-old to step into Johnny Sexton’s formidable shoes yet Crowley exuded confidence and precision, particularly from the tee.
His performance underscores Ireland's depth of talent and bodes well for their prospects in the remainder of their Six Nations campaign.
“His composure at the line was great,” Farrell said of Crowley, who will start against Italy at the Aviva on Sunday.
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“He made some really nice decisions and some poor ones as well, and he’ll know that better than anyone. The strength of character with his goal-kicking, to miss that one in front but then to knock them over from the sideline showed immense character. It’s a good start for him and for us as a team.”
Equally noteworthy was the debut of Joe McCarthy, whose stellar performance reverberated throughout the game. The relentless energy and tenacity of the Leinsterman set the tone for Ireland, earning him rightful acclaim as a standout player of the round.
Conversely, France seemingly lacked any sort of spark and that may well have been down to the absence of Antoine Dupont.
The void left by the scrum-half - who won’t play in the Six Nations as he prepares to represent his country in rugby sevens at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris - was palpable for Les Bleus.
France’s coach, Fabien Galthie, was concerned at the defeat: “The offensive performance was not there, that’s clear. Waste, turnovers, dropped balls, a lack of speed. We did not prepare accordingly.”
In addition, France’s defence coach, Shaun Edwards said: “Their ruck speed was absolutely unbelievable. We lost 14 balls in total and Ireland lost four. They are a class team and so with those odds, we expected to lose.”
As Edwards alluded to, it was Ireland’s two-second ruck speed, tenacity and clinical performance that helped them to victory.
For Ireland then, the win against France transcended mere scoreboard triumph. It served as a resounding statement of intent.
Looking ahead to the rest of the Six Nations, Ireland now find themselves in a position of strength. With three games remaining on home soil and just one away fixture against England, the prospect of achieving back-to-back Grand Slams looms large.
The road ahead is arduous, fraught with challenges and obstacles, but Ireland's recent success in France has injected a renewed sense of confidence and belief in their capabilities.
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However, complacency is a luxury they cannot afford, especially with Italy as their next opponents.
Beating the Azzurri may appear as a straightforward assignment on paper, but their recent display against England highlighted their ability to upset the odds.
Italy also made life uncomfortable for Ireland in Rome last year (losing 30-24 in the end) so Farrell’s side must approach this match with the same level of focus and determination that propelled them to victory against France.
The final echoes of one of Ireland’s finest performances will filter into Sunday - with those flocking to the Aviva still reflecting on a memorable night in Marseille - but Farrell, who has made six changes for their clash with Italy - won’t be getting carried away.
World Cup hangover banished? Sure, but concentrating on Italy and securing a bonus-point win is imperative if the dream of becoming back-to-back Grand Slam champions is to turn into a reality.
Ireland: Keenan; Nash, Henshaw, McCloskey, Lowe; Crowley, Casey; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham, McCarthy, Ryan, Baird, Doris (capt), Conan.
Replacements: Kelleher, Loughman, O'Toole, Henderson, Van der Flier, Gibson-Park, Byrne, Larmour.
Italy: Capuozzo; Pani, Brex, Menoncello, Ioane; P Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Lucchesi, Ceccarelli, N Cannone, Ruzza, Izekor, Zuliani, Lamaro (capt).
Replacements: Nicotera, Spagnolo, Zilocchi, Zambonin, Vintcent, Page-Relo, Allan, Mori.