Ireland headed into this Six Nations Super Saturday on top of the table but while all the talk in advance was how they would need the bonus-point win to guarantee them the title, England’s struggle in their 34-5 victory over Italy instead meant a win by just seven points or more would ultimately suffice (six if they scored one try). 

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Despite this simplification of the mathematics, which would have been even simpler had Ireland not conceded a converted try in the last play the previous weekend in Dublin versus the Italians, winning in Paris was still a tall order when viewed from the prism that Andy Farrell’s side had been dismantled in their last away match at Twickenham. 

However, much can change in eight pandemic months and with this Irish XV altered in a number of areas and benefiting from their round four tune-up, momentum was with them heading into this 2020 decider, especially given the level of optimism that their back row lethargy had potentially been solved by finding CJ Stander two robust rookies to pack down with. 

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Ireland boss Andy Farrell sets the scene ahead the match in Paris

That hope, though, was ultimately trick rather than treat as Ireland miserably failed to build on the promising first half that had ended with them just 17-13 in arrears. The gap should have been a solitary point but skipper Johnny Sexton made the cardinal cup final rugby error of spurning easy three points by instead kicking to the corner and rolling the dice. 

When the opportunity failed to translate into a try, a massive psychological blow had been struck and what unfolded in the second half was a contest that became a best-forgotten Irish nightmare. 

The final result showed that the gap on the scoreboard was only eight points, France winning 35-27, but there was effectively a chasm between the teams for large parts of the second period. Come the finish the only team celebrating were 1,100 kilometres away from Paris as England had been handed their third title in five years under Eddie Jones while sat in their Roman hotel. 

It left an error-srewn Ireland reflecting on what if, having only themselves to blame after their misfiring second-half was encapsulated by Sexton’s unnecessary show of angry at being withdrawn eleven minutes from the finish. Here’s how the veteran captain and his Irish teammates rated on an evening that doesn’t reflect well on new boss Farrell: 

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15. JACOB STOCKDALE – 4

His recent switch to full-back put emphasis on his defence and he was found wanting. Had gotten away with a fumble just minutes before he was woundingly involved in the first-half penalty try that resulted in Caelan Doris getting carded. Why he didn’t fall on the ball is a question that will Halloween-like haunt him? His second-half also had errors, three points given away at a 50th-minute penalty, and he was then too slow to cut out a try-creating Romain Ntamack kick through. His metres carried ended in excess of 100 and he finished with a try, but those things were consolations on a very poor night. 

14. ANDREW CONWAY – 5

Similar to last week, traffic was restricted in his area of the pitch. Had no ball at all in the first half, but did have a few tackles to make. Crucially pipped to the catch that Anthony Bouthier made which instigated the counter that pushed France 22-13 ahead early on the resumption. Not his fault Ireland were shown up.  

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13. ROBBIE HENSHAW – 6

A starter in place of the broken-jawed Garry Ringrose, the only change to the Ireland XV had his hands full on paper with Virimi Vakatawa and co coming down his channel. A busy first-half on the tackling front was followed by dogged fire-fighting in the second where he showed immense pluck to produce a solo try on the hour. Without that, Ireland could have been hosed like used happen in the bad old days in Paris.

12. BUNDEE AKI – 5 

With Ireland needing physicality in the carry, he took it upon himself to seek out bruising contact in the opening period. However, he didn’t turn up in the second half. His unwise kick resulted in the game-changing early France try and he was hooked on 53 minutes for Chris Farrell who didn’t have the brightest of starts with a possession-losing miscommunication with Stockdale. 

11. HUGO KEENAN – 6

Very nearly had a try off Sexton’s splendid grubber on then minutes, the incident which resulted in Bouthier’s yellow card for deliberately batting the ball into touch. Was constantly brave in the air contesting ball and didn’t drop his head, providing the assist out of the tackle for Stockdale’s late try. 

10. JOHNNY SEXTON – 5

Started excellently, his grubber nearly creating a try for Keenan while his carry in getting held up over line helped build the pressure that led to Cian Healy’s try. However, instead of going on to lead his side to glory, he neglected the maxim of kicking your points in cup final rugby. Shocking call to go for the corner at the end of the first half instead of the posts. Was then left chasing Ntamack’s shadow throughout a terrible second half where at one stage he even failed to find touch with a penalty. His show of pique when substituted wasn’t the action of a team man.  

9. CONOR MURRAY – 5

Began with a good attempted penalty kick from inside his own half and from there he kept Ireland’s tempo high during a promising first-half where his only individual regret was getting penalised at the ruck that saw France go 17-13 ahead. Struggled in the second half behind a pack that didn’t know what had hit it during the opening 15 minutes and he was hooked for Jamison Gibson-Park on 65 minutes. 

1. CIAN HEALY – 6

A night where he became Ireland’s sixth Test rugby centurion, his 100th appearance, unfortunately, wasn’t a winning one despite an at times warrior-like contribution. His gutsy try catapulted Ireland level at 7-7 and he was to go on and encouragingly return from a first-half head injury assessment. However, that was as good as it got. 

2. ROB HERRING – 4

Had shown glimpses against the Italians that he might have what it takes to be Rory Best’s long-term successor but this was a couple of steps backwards. His lineout throwing had messy moments while his presence at the breakdown wasn’t the influence it was seven days earlier. Hooked on 58 minutes for Dave Heffernan whose throwing accuracy was problematic. 

3. ANDREW PORTER – 5

Enjoyed an early penalty win at the scrum, but far too easily stepped on halfway by Gael Fickou who set up the opening try. Improved after that and helped manoeuvre Ireland into a decent position by the interval but was left with too many second-half fires to fight before leaving Finlay Bealham saw the last eleven minutes of the game out. 

4. TADHG BEIRNE – 6

Exhibited smart play in some of his first-half carrying which helped inflate Irish optimism that winning was mission possible. Continued to battle hard against the second-half tide and lasted 62 minutes before Ultan Dillane was introduced. 

5. JAMES  RYAN – 6

A far better showing than what he produced last weekend against the Italians. Latched on to drive Healy over for his try while so much of his in-tight first-half play was what you wanted from him. Kept trying despite the second-half momentum shift and finished his team’s busiest tackler with a double-digit figure. 

6. CAELAN DORIS – 5

Will replay his yellow card incident over and over in his head, inexperience tempting him into the foul on Gregory Alldritt that resulted in the first-half penalty try and his sin-binning. His return just before the break to make it 15 vs 15 again was the reason why Sexton went for the corner instead of the posts. Will learn so much from how the difficult second half unfolded. 

7. WILL CONNORS – 5

Star player on his man of the match debut against the Italians, this was a very different outing and he wasn’t the influence Ireland needed him to be. Paid the price for his team’s early second-half slump, Peter O’Mahony brought on 14 minutes into it.  

8. CJ STANDER – 5

His ball-carrying was much curtailed in the opening half, interval stats counting just five paltry metres off nine runs. With the second-half pressure on, it was his in-from-the-side penalty that put France 25-13 ahead. Won two breakdown penalties in riposte in the closing stages but by then the game was long gone from him and from his dazed team.  

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