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Player ratings: Butter fingers

OPINION: That was a Six Nations thriller where the result gloriously hung in the balance right until the final whistle in Paris, France eventually winning a rip-roaring, high-scoring classic 30-24 despite an inspired second-half Ireland comeback.


It was an energy-sapping, frantic affair in which French physicality was the overall dominant feature that tipped the balance the way of the hosts.

Ireland will take great solace with how they scrambled.

Ultimately, though, they will head into their round three home game against Italy later this month cursing handling errors coming down the finishing straight which left them beaten for the first time since France came to Dublin last February and won.

Liam Heagney rates the Ireland players!

15. HUGO KEENAN – 6.5
For 17 caps, the full-back emblematic of the Farrell era was safe as houses but he came unstuck in appearance number 18. Started out defensively unsettled for that opening try and while there was one particular flash of brilliance under an aerial ball on halfway, it was his kick that went dead that gave the French the scrum that became the penalty for 7-19. Was far more reliable in the second half, an excellent break generating the optimism that a comeback was possible.

A two-try scorer last weekend, he had an anonymous first half as play veered clear of his channel. Took 18 minutes to first show up, conceding a debatable penalty under dropping ball. Was much more involved in the second period but his display culminated in a poor call for Keenan to launch a kick with around 30 seconds remaining, cheaply giving away possession.


Showed last week how classy he can be when playing behind a dominant pack in round one, it was a different challenge here with his space being restricted when on the ball and his defence was questioned with a few missed tackles on his report card. Exhibited good hands, though, when the comeback was underway and had a willingness to try and go through a half-gap.

12. BUNDEE AKI – 6.5
Finished the opening half as his backline’s top tackler, an indication of the pressure that the high tempo French looked to build. Was miss and hit on the other side of the ball in that time, as illustrated by getting dragged into touch by winger Gabin Villiere and then alternatively illustrating his power with a crunching carry off scrum ball. Rose to the occasion with Ireland 15 points down but didn’t see out the contest as he was gone for Robbie Henshaw on 64 minutes.

Voted the sponsor’s man of the match on his Test debut last weekend, he kept that excellent vibe going here with an incredible aerial catch of Carbery’s restart to race away from the 22 and score on seven minutes without breaking his stride. Demonstrated good game awareness with the French pressure and was his team’s main target under the aerial ball.

Had little time to orchestrate when on the ball in general play in the first half but his kicking prowess was evident in the restart that led to Hansen’s try and the ensuing touchline conversion he landed with aplomb. Tackled diligently – look at his 34th minute on Gael Fickou – and he upped the ante when his team needed it most in a second-half where his soft hands were a frequent feature. A few more starting opportunities in the big games like this will bring him on a ton. He must be in the conversion to start at Twickenham in round four – even if Sexton is fit and available.


The Kiwi has been one of the key players in the recent transformation of the Ireland attack but his lack of composure in the first half was typical of the hurried nature of Ireland’s unsettling play when confronted by non-stop French physicality at the breakdown. Doggedly hung tough, though. Grabbed an excellently taken try on 50 minutes with a neat break but left the fray on 64 minutes for Conor Murray to finish.

Was a force against Wales but that was was a totally different level compared to the physicality here. Gave up the penalty in the first French scrum after 22 minutes, but he was another player who came through the adversity with much credit in the bank. It was his foraging at the breakdown after a French carry that won Ireland the possession that led to Josh van der Flier’s comeback-igniting try. Played a whopping 73 minutes.

Lasted just 26 minutes following an up and down effort. For instance, he put a fine tackle in on Julian Marchand shortly after conceding a penalty and then snaffled a loose French throw quickly after a handling error when trying to take a pass. Damaged his shoulder and couldn’t play on after some initial on-field treatment.

Stood up when Ireland were all at sea but it wasn’t a totally faultless resistance. Was done for offside to see France move 16-7 after the defence was panicked by some scramble Damian Penaud genius, and the scrum also went backwards before the break. Was a more powerful operator in the second half and there was also a trademark show of sweet hands on one occasion to send Keenan away. Another prop to play an exhausting 73 minutes.

Another gritty effort by a tremendous footballer whose influence at Test level continues to grow. It was his determination that helped to ensure the French didn’t run away with this and his ability to have a positive role was capped by his fabulous 50:22 kick on 67 minutes that got Ireland into a threatening position that they couldn’t profit from.

5. JAMES RYAN – 7.5
Endured a troubled start where he stepped in too close to Keenan to allow Antoine Dupont the space to glide in. Responded to French nuisance by turning the tide in the second half but it was cruelly his boot that unwittingly deflected the ball clear for the Cyril Baille try and his leadership will be a focus in the post-mortem for the 73rd-minute penalty decision to take points rather than go to the corner.

Two turnovers conceded in the opening period were uncharacteristic of the blindside but he made amends in the sense that he was Ireland’s top first half tackler. Rose to great prominence in the second half where he showed the ability that came to the fore during the November series. It was unfortunately his penalty at the breakdown that then gave the French their final three points.

Another of the forwards who were swamped by the early French physicality but he is a resilient operator who has learned the hard way how to duck and dive at this level. His ability to wield positive influence was epitomised by his 45th-minute try.

8. JACK CONAN – 5.5
Endured a sketchy start with the French laying down a marker. Was at fault for the holding-on penalty that put the hosts 13-7 up and he continued to struggle with the intensity, making little headway. It just wasn’t his night and he exited for Peter O’Mahony on 53 minutes.


16. DAN SHEEHAN – 7.5
Sent into battle on 26 minutes with Kelleher injured, the Test rookie soon saw a lineout throw not going to plan but he was another player who got to demonstrate his true worth with some second-half excellence. Was energetic in the move that led to Gibson-Park’s try and his wrap in the tackle to deny Melvyn Jaminet from grounding for a 77th-minute try was sensational.

17. CIAN HEALY – No Rating
A 73rd-minute sub for Porter.

Another 73rd-minute sub, this time for Furlong.

Had a minute for Ryan at the end of the first half before returning on 58 minutes when fellow sub Peter O’Mahony exited for a HIA. Annoyingly couldn’t take the catch at a crucial 67th-minute lineout and his hands were again disappointing after transferring loose ball from a kick rebound. Did rip ball from France in the final moments but it didn’t lead to anything.

Came on for Conan just before the French try on 53 minutes but was gone five minutes later for a concussion test.

21. CONOR MURRAY – 5.5
Arrived on after 64 minutes for Gibson-Park with the score poised at 21-27 but couldn’t provide an edge to successfully complete his team’s comeback.

Only sent on with a minute remaining.

The other replacement Ireland made on 64 minutes, he picked up the baton from Aki and his slickest moment was his alertness when covering a Penaud kick through.

Source: RugbyPass

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