'That's exactly what happened against the All Blacks... that's what happened again'
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell insists the “competition is only just getting going” after France put themselves in pole position for Guinness Six Nations glory with a pulsating 30-24 victory in Paris.
The Irish played their part in an enthralling evening of free-flowing rugby at a raucous Stade de France but ultimately fell short following a sloppy start as their winning run ended at nine games.
France captain Antoine Dupont scored the opening try after just 67 seconds and Farrell’s men trailed 22-7 early in the second period.
Quick-fire second-half scores from Josh Van Der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park, following Mack Hansen’s maiden Test try early on, brought the Irish back into contention.
While the contest was billed as a potential early championship decider, Farrell was proud of the efforts of his players and refused to be downhearted.
“It’s hard to take when you’ve put in such a tough shift like that, especially with the fight and character that we had to come back,” he said.
“In the end, two good sides going at it; (at) 22-7 down people might have thought it was a step too far but these lads didn’t. Their character shone through and certainly their fitness shone through.
“The competition obviously is slightly in France’s favour, two home games that they’ve played and two victories for them.
“But the competition is only just getting going, so we’ll lick our wounds and learn from what was a fighting, spirited performance.
“At the same time, we’ll be honest with each other and make sure that we learn the lessons on a few decisions that we made along the way.
“The result doesn’t lie, congratulations to France – they deserved the win because that’s what the scoreline tells us.”
Ireland arrived in the French capital having not been beaten since suffering defeat to Les Bleus on this weekend last year, but without the services of injured skipper Johnny Sexton.
Joey Carbery filled in for Sexton to make his first Six Nations start, while lock James Ryan took on the captaincy.
Munster fly-half Carbery – who has endured an injury nightmare in recent years – produced a flawless kicking display, landing three conversions and setting up a grandstand finish by slotting a 73rd-minute penalty to temporarily reduce the Irish deficit to three points.
Farrell praised the performance of his stand-in number 10 and dismissed suggestions the team should have gone for touch with seven minutes to go, rather than take the three points.
“It’s the right decision, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“They (the players) are in the moment, they understand what’s happening, there was plenty of time left. I back them to make those calls.”
Speaking of Carbery, he added: “I thought he was excellent. Obviously everyone was curious to see how Joey would go on his first start but it didn’t surprise us.
“He was very confident and very assured in his performance. He kicked beautifully for goal and I think he controlled the game pretty well for us.”
Following Scotland’s defeat to Wales earlier on Saturday, France are now the sole team still in Grand Slam contention going into round three.
Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthie felt the game had hallmarks of his side’s stunning autumn win over New Zealand, when they also held off a fightback to clinch victory.
“When you play that sort of team you have to accept that sometimes we have a weak moment but we have to limit the damage,” he said.
“That’s exactly what happened against the All Blacks and that’s what happened again today.
“But we were able to take control again and have the upper hand in conditions that were physically, psychologically, statistically challenging; like the All Blacks but with a different opponent.
“One might say we organised ourselves the same way in the last 30 minutes of the match and that is a good thing because we won and that’s very positive.”
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