Ireland v France, Six Nations Championship, February 7
Ireland toast sweet revenge
February 7, 2009
Gordon D'Arcy marked his return to the international stage with a try © Getty Images
Revenge is sweet. Just ask Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy. The Leinster centres were both on the scoresheet as Ireland got their Six Nations campaign underway with a 30-21 win over France, banishing memories of Vincent Clerc's last minute try in 2007 as Ireland lost their first ever game at Croke Park.
While O'Driscoll was forced to watch helpless from the sidelines as his side crashed to defeat in 2007, D'Arcy trudged from the field crushed. It has been a difficult two years for both players since that shock result, D'Arcy undergoing a torturous time out with a broken arm and O'Driscoll failing to find his best form, resigning the Leinster captaincy and becoming widely tipped to lose the role with Ireland.
In front of a baying crowd they perhaps tonight turned a corner, leaving the field to applause after exhibiting flashes of their old brilliance. O'Driscoll's try was textbook in its execution as he flew on to a flat pass from scrum-half Tomas O'Leary and dissected the French defence in a manner that has been seen by Irish fans many times before.
D'Arcy's score will stay with the man for a long time. It wasn't pretty but as he pivoted out of Thiery Dusautoir's tackle to crash over there won't have been an Irish voice not raised to celebrate his return.
There were notable contributions also from Jamie Heaslip, the Leinster No.8 turning in his most consistent international performance and scoring the opening try, and Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney have the makings of a potent back-three.
With Ireland successfully exorcising their ghosts it's easy to forget the vastly improved display put in by France. If reports are to be believed then their coach Marc Lievremont had choice words for his side at half-time and the final whistle, but considering their stuttering performances in the autumn and particularly during last season's Six Nations he has considerably more than England manager Martin Johnson to be happy about.
Clement Poitrenaud slipped back into international action with ease, Lionel Beauxis was steady and exhibited no little flair at fly-half and their much-vaunted forwards finally made an impact. Imanol Harinordoquy and Dusautoir were tireless in the back-row, while Sebastien Chabal and Dimitri Szarzewski were typically ferocious in the loose.
It remains to be seen whether Lievremont leaves his team in tact for next weekend's visit of Scotland to the Stade de France, or returns to his damaging rotation policy. French fans will hope that he will allow these combinations to mature to the levels last seen under previous coach Bernard Laporte, but you'd have to fear for their aspirations if there is a raft of changes.
Ireland however, have an eminently winnable trip to Rome next weekend. With confidence high and Italy in dire straits, it should be another morale boosting Irish victory and after tonight's win those with far-reaching imaginations will be lining up a title decider against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on March 21.