France 20-22 Ireland
Fairytale ending for Brian O'Driscoll
March 15, 2014
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It was the perfect finish. Brian O'Driscoll's been involved in his fair share of mooted 'fairytale endings'. His last was in Sydney, but it was a tainted experience. When the British & Irish Lions finally got their first series win in 16 years on Australian turf, he was sat in the stands, suited and brown-leather booted. He later had the Tom Richards Cup in his hands but there was a feeling of imperfect glory.
Come March 15, 2014, at the end of the match he was on the field, green Ireland shirt clinging to him with rugby boots on his feet. While in Australia it was his fellow non-used team-mates who hugged him, this time it was the rest of the players who had just secured their first title since 2009. The smile was the same but there was no hint of a hollow feeling to this triumph for O'Driscoll.
He was named Man of the Match and while he was denied a try by a last-ditch Maxime Medard tackle, he has another winner's medal to add to his collection of polished silverware.
The question now for Ireland is how to replace him. O'Driscoll is not used to playing 80 minutes at Test level, he said it felt like a "bloody long time" post-match, but in whatever game he plays, he has some bearing on the result.
Ireland have achieved their goal, winning the title. While they lost to England, their four wins have featured breathtaking passages of play, sleights of hand, choke tackles and raw aggression.
While at their core there is experience with Paul O'Connell continuing to defy Old Father Time to keep up with his younger team-mates, this competition has seen depth established in the front-row and a confident back three grow as a unit, a triumvirate that was without Tommy Bowe.
Against France, it was a team effort, though O'Driscoll was named Man of the Match, the award could have gone to O'Connell, Andrew Trimble or Jamie Heaslip. There has been a new found direction in this Ireland team. Last year they looked frustrated but come 2014, they were focused and took their chances though they will be thankful Jean-Marc Doussain missed a late kick and hands moved forward instead of backwards for what should have been a try-making pass to Damien Chouly.
While Ireland played with a consistent swagger throughout the game, France could have taken it. They looked dangerous with ball in hand with Mathieu Bastareaud causing all sorts of destruction when he ran straight at the Irish defence. But there are more questions than answers surrounding this bunch of players. Philippe Saint-Andre's call to substitute Maxime Machenaud was strange while Thomas Domingo struggled at loose-head. Above all of that is the brilliance France threaten but rarely realise - that may yet cost Saint-Andre his job.
Post-mortems will now be held as France and Ireland pick through contrasting championships. France will wonder how they could have gone from beating England in round one to finishing fourth while Ireland will bask in glory.
For Ireland, they look to have an exciting future. In nine or so months, Joe Schmidt has led them to within 30 seconds of beating the All Blacks and a title. The focus is now moving this team on to the next level and moulding them into a side who can contest for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. But tonight, you can forgive them for savouring the moment. And for O'Driscoll as he inevitably gets flooded by nostalgia, he can feel hugely proud of everything he has achieved and given the sport. Sometimes these scripts rugby seem to have threaded through its core do end up giving legends of the game a perfect ending as Schmidt summed up perfectly.
"The fairytale continued right to the end for the magic man."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.