Ireland lose for winning in their final pool match against France at Rugby World Cup
CARDIFF // By Monday afternoon, Ireland’s bruising 24-9 victory over France here on Sunday night may well be seen as a Pyrrhic one.
Second-half tries from Rob Kearney and Conor Murray powered the Six Nations winners to their biggest margin of success over France for 40 years.
Yet coach Joe Schmidt may have to prepare for the quarter-final showdown against Argentina without three of his most influential players.
Fly-half Jonny Sexton kicked two penalties before he came off with a suspected groin strain, and captain Paul O’Connell’s long and illustrious career in the emerald green jersey looks likely to end on his 114th cap after he pulled his upper hamstring at half time when his side led 9-6.
Flanker Peter O’Mahony followed out his captain due to a twisted knee early in the second half and, with Sean O’Brien appearing to punch Pascal Pape off the ball, the Leinster open-side flanker is surely going to be cited.
Pool D winners Ireland will now return here next Sunday to face off against Argentina, a team they have beaten on the last five occasions, with a place in the semi-finals for the first time at stake.
Without O’Connell and the other three it could be a lot harder than first envisaged.
“I’m very sorry for him. He’s a huge player,” France captain Thierry Dusautoir said of O’Connell afterwards. “Ireland needed him for the quarter-final. He’s a warrior.”
Until O’Mahony went off, he had dominated the breakdown with O’Brien and with the lion’s share of possession and second-half territory France were on the back foot for all but the opening quarter.
Marshalled by Dusautoir, France tried in vain to tackle Ireland to a standstill but basic errors, particularly in midfield where Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud failed to communicate effectively, cost them dearly.
Philippe Saint-Andre was not in charge when his side shocked New Zealand 20-18 in Cardiff during the quarter-finals of the 2007 tournament.
On the evidence of this he has a lot to do this week if his team are to repeat the trick here on Saturday.
“We know New Zealand is the biggest challenge in this tournament but history shows we can do it,” he said. “We know we have to be much better. It will be a huge fight.”
There had not been more than a converted try between these two teams for the past seven years, and such was the expectation by the 72,163 crowd that they almost lifted the closed Millennium Stadium roof off during the anthems.
France barely missed a tackle for the entire first half, while Ireland’s line speed in defence proved a constant problem for Les Bleus.
Several times Bastareaud was caught in possession in the first half with overlaps begging along the line.
All week France had threatened to take Sexton out of the game, and just after Scott Spedding had drawn his side level at 6-6 in the 23rd minute, Louis Picamoles knocked the wind out of Sexton with a perfectly-timed dump tackle.
Sexton’s Leinster colleague Ian Madigan made an immediate impression as substitute when capitalising on Pape’s tackle on Murray without the ball by adding three points.
Bastareaud and Fofana had lined up in the centres 13 times for their country, but Robbie Henshaw motored through a huge gap between the two to set up an attacking position for Ireland just after the break.
From a scrum, Jamie Heaslip fed Murray who passed to Henshaw again in midfield.
From the breakdown in the shadow of the posts, Murray simply fed Kearney, who ignored the overlap and powered through a limping Frederic Michalak to score.
It looked to break France and although Morgan Parra added another penalty for France the pressure told when Rory Best crashed over the French line.
He was held up, but Murray showed quick thinking to dot down at the base of the post.
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Published: October 12, 2015 04:00 AM