Player Ratings: Invincible
OPINION: The arrival of France in Dublin two years on from their last visit was the perfect moment to stress test the voluminous progress of Ireland under Andy Farrell, going from relatively nowhere to becoming the world’s No. 1 ranked side.
It was 2021 when a behind-closed-doors defeat marked the worst Irish start to a championship since 1998 and there were grave grumblings that their former assistant Farrell might not genuinely have the nous to bring his team on as head coach.
Those concerns soon evaporated. Ireland embarked on a sumptuous run of 18 wins in 20 matches and with the last six wins coming on the bounce to underline their current form, there were no excuses – not even a pesky list of hamstring ailments – coming into this one against a French team that had won 16 of its 20 games – 14 wins on the spin – since last playing at Lansdowne Road.
Without doubt. this was the potential game of the championship in the making and it didn’t disappoint after the false start that was the ball bashing down off the spider cam.
It was an incredible match with the teams compellingly resembling two champion heavyweights slugging it out toe to toe in the final rounds of a title belt bout. That was before Ireland eventually delivered the telling blow, Garry Ringrose’s bonus-point earning try eight minutes from time critical in securing them the 32-19 victory. Allez les verts.
Liam Heagney rates the Irish players
15 Hugo Keenan – 9
This world-class talent, an emblem selection of the Farrell era, had another bountiful appearance. His display was decorated by the lovely break for his ninth-minute try but he was so effective in so many other aspects, carrying for more than 200 metres and kicking for more than 300. Had one heart-stopping moment when his aerial collision with Ethan Dumortier could have spelt card trouble but referee Wayne Barnes gave him the all-clear.
14 Mack Hansen – 7.5
Could have been left unsettled by seeing how his kick and chase gave France the possession for the rollicking counter-attack try from Damian Penaud, but he is a steely character and was immediately forcing a block on the restart, turning possession Ireland’s way to begin the lead-up to the bite-back Lowe try. Was later involved in that extraordinary moment when Antoine Dupont denied him from reaching out to score.
13 Garry Ringrose – 8
Has taken the attack side of his game to world-class levels, a fact reinforced by his finish for the win-sealing try: he made sure he kept hugging the touchline before the ball was anywhere near him and got the call in to play him. Has reputationally been prone to missing too many tackles but it isn’t costing him and when he gets it spot on, such as when nailing Gael Fickou on 13 minutes, it’s a huge boost for his team.
12 Stuart McCloskey – 8
Was always bemused as to why McCloskey didn’t play more under Joe Schmidt. He had the hands to go with the heft in breaking the line and it’s only now that he is deservedly getting to show this at Test level. Threatened the line regularly, asking important questions of the French, and enjoyed a big turnover penalty win at an early second-half ruck. Lasted 66 minutes.
11 James Lowe – 8.5
Started with the bemusement of seeing a kick blocked by the aerial spider cam, but his second kick, which resulted in the French conceding a lineout five metres out, set the tone for Ireland. Will be celebrated for that incredible Superman dive to the corner to score in 21 minutes, beating Penaud to the corner.
10 Johnny Sexton – 8
Lasted just 48 minutes after absorbing one too many bumps but he departed having left his side in pole position. His leadership was evident in the decision to kick for the posts and take an easy three points for a six-point interval lead rather than risk going for a try. There was a first-half moment when you wondered how influential he would be – he was the one who indicated for Hansen to garryowen and chase rather than offer himself for the pass when Penaud countered to score. However, he showed himself to be the ultimate team man with the selfless way he sacrificed himself when taking a huge dunt from Penaud so he could put Caelan Doris away with an offload.
9 Conor Murray – 9
Like a vintage wine, he is getting better with age and this will go down as one of his finest-ever performances for Ireland given the circumstances: his father is ill in hospital after a serious road traffic accident. His passing was crisp, he wasn’t daunted by Dupont and he could well have had a couple of tries. Even had referee Barnes compliment him at some stage for the quality of the play. Played 57 minutes.
1 Andrew Porter – 9
Last week’s penalty trouble was a thing of the past here as he was immense in a wonderful battle between two excellent teams. The low height of his carry was exceptional and it was no surprise to see him on the scoreboard, worming over on 27 and going on play influentially until the 70th minute.
2 Rob Herring – 6.5
First Six Nations start in two years for the rare enough starter and it sadly didn’t last long, Herring exiting all shook up in the 26th minute after shipping a head-juddering hit from the yellow-carded Uini Atonio. Would have been under pressure to be a good version of the ball-carrying Dan Sheehan and he had his moments, including an early tilt at the line.
3 Finlay Bealham – 8
Made light work last week of Ireland not having Tadhg Furlong steeling their scrum and he was tops again here, even having the audacity to show that grizzly-looking tightheads can have the softest of hands. It was his trickery with the pass that blew the hole in the French defence for the Keenan try. Motored on for 62.
4 Tadhg Beirne – 8
Packed in a lot during his 45 minutes before an ankle injury ended his industrious afternoon. We had the usual from him, breakdown nuisance where an infringement gave France their opening penalty points and then a trademark penalty-winning ruck turnover. He carried rewardingly and also had a tackle count that had him listed as the highest Irish player when he exited.
5 James Ryan – 9
The lock doesn’t get enough credit for his return to form in the last while and he was defiant here in negating the French forwards. Had one ropey spell where two quick-fire penalty concessions lost Ireland a try chance and cost three points at the other end, but he came through that with flying colours. Finished on top of his team’s tackle chart.
6 Peter O’Mahony – 7.5
Didn’t have his best of best games but was still influential in ensuring Ireland didn’t go behind in that cagey first part of the second half. Worked diligently at the breakdown trying to get an edge before leaving on 57.
7 Josh van der Flier – 8.5
This was a less flashy outing for the 2022 player of the year as there was so much to take care of in the trenches where his tackle count was not that far behind Ryan’s. Carried well when given the chance.
8 Caelan Doris – 9.5
Fabulous on both sides of the ball in Wales, topping his team’s tackle chart and royally carrying the ball, he was the standout Irish performer versus the French, taking the fight to them, especially in the first half when possession was regularly turned into points. Did get a warning from the referee to get out of his ear with the constant chatter about rucks, but other than that he was flamboyant and classy in everything he did.