Ireland clinch Six Nations after beating France in thriller
Brian O’Driscoll walks away a champion as teammates crown his farewell test in style
Ireland won the Six Nations title on Saturday with a thrilling 22-20 victory over France to give iconic centre Brian O’Driscoll the perfect end to his stellar international career.
Ireland scored three tries – Jonathan Sexton getting two – to France’s two in a pulsating encounter to see them to only their second win in Paris in 42 years. Fittingly, the last time in 2000 O’Driscoll was also in the side and scored a hat-trick.
“The emotions are starting to kick in now,” O’Driscoll said. “It feels great to be a two-time Six Nations winner. So many seconds along the years and so many disappointments, it is great to finish my career on a high. When I do hang this jersey up on the hook inside it will be with fond memories.
“I am absolutely delighted. There is a huge Irish contingent here and I am glad we gave them something to shout about.”
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell added: “It is fantastic. We are delighted for Ireland and the people back home and also for Brian O’Driscoll and his family – for him to have a great finish to his career is great for everyone involved.”
France won a penalty in the second minute after Steve Walsh penalised Chris Henry and Maxime Machenaud converted it for 3-0.
The Irish were taking time to settle and Dave Kearney cost them another penalty in the 14th minute when he failed to release the ball in the tackle – Machenaud made no mistake to make it 6-0.
Ireland finally made some headway into French territory and through a well worked phase of play Sexton was on hand to take a brilliant one-handed pass from Chris Henry to touch down. He missed the relatively easy conversion, however.
The Irish, though, had their tails up and when Louis Picamoles – recalled after being suspended for the Scotland match – knocked on in dropping a simple catch deep inside French territory they took full advantage.
Scrum-half Conor Murray broke into the 22 and offloaded to Trimble, who made no mistake to go over under the posts – this time Sexton made no mistake putting the Irish ahead for the first time 12-6 after 26 minutes.
However, the French came storming back and after being kept at bay by some fierce Irish defending on their line on the left hand side, fly-half Remi Tales put in a high cross-field kick to the other side where Yoann Huget out-jumped Rob Kearney.
The ball fell into full-back Brice Dulin’s hands and he touched down in the corner for his third test try. Machenaud landed a superb conversion to make it 13-12 just after the half hour mark.
The Irish, though, were awarded a penalty right on the stroke of half-time as France went offside but once again Sexton took a long time contemplating the kick and missed from in front of the posts – the Irishman flinging his kicking tee to the ground in anger.
The French, taking heart from this let-off, made an early foray into Ireland’s 22 in the second half and Trimble was fortunate not to be penalised by Walsh for impeding Maxime Medard as the wing bore down on his kick-ahead.
Taking full advantage of this, the Irish scored a superb third try, created initially by Rob Keaney’s storming run out of their 22.
The ball was worked quickly out to Trimble, who broke through a tackled and offloaded to O’Driscoll, who cut inside and was brought down just short of the line. However the ball was worked back and Sexton went over for his second try.
He made no mistake with the conversion to make it 19-13 to Ireland and minutes later he added a penalty as the Irish started to really gain the upper hand for the first time.
The French, though, reacted positively and showing great character came back at the Irish with the visitors defending on their line for several minutes before Szarzewski burrowed over. Machenaud added the conversion to take the French to within two points of Ireland at 22-20.
The Irish were further destabilised as with 12 minutes remaining Sexton crashed to the ground out cold after going in to tackle Mathieu Bastareaud and his head met with clattering force the latter's forearm. He had to be stretchered off.
The French then won a penalty but Jean-Marc Doussain, who had come on for Machenaud, sent his penalty wide which was to prove as costly to the hosts as Sexton's missed efforts could have done to the Irish.
There was one more nerve-wracking moment for the Irish, with less than two minutes remaining, as the French scored a try only for it to be ruled out for a forward pass.