Old failings came back to haunt Ireland at the Aviva Stadium again on Saturday as they once again managed to turn dominance into anything other than a win, with 13-13 draw against France.
Just as they succumbed against the Scots and the English in the second half of Six Nations games this season, so Ireland threw away the chance to grab a second win of the campaign.
The home team, 13-3 up at the break, didn’t manage to score at all in the second half as France carved out the draw for their first point of the season, a result that may spare them the wooden spoon.
It could have been so different, however, on an afternoon when Brian O’Driscoll may have played his last game at the old Lansdowne Road. It should have been so different.
Even with a side ravaged by injury, Declan Kidney’s charges were full value for their interval lead when Jamie Heaslip scored an early try and youngster Paddy Jackson added a conversion and two penalties with the boot.
The stats all pointed to Ireland dominance in the possession stakes and on the scoreboard in that first half, Freddie Michalak managing just one penalty kick for the outclassed visitors.
But not for the first time this season, Ireland went on the back foot when it really mattered in the second half as the French scored a late try via number eight Louis Picamoles to get back into the reckoning.
Michalak and scrum-half Morgan Parra scored a penalty apiece and Michalak converted Picamoles’s try before late calls from the home fans for a penalty try or at least a penalty when Keith Earls was stopped on his way to the line.
Ireland just couldn’t see the job through, and the draw has done little to take the pressure off coach Declan Kidney whose contract expires in the summer.
Kidney was honest in his assessment of the game when he admitted, “It’s about taking your chances. I think the
penalty count was nine-five against us. That cost us.
“In the first half we probably gave France three easy outs. Three times we were in their 22 and gave away penalties or free-kicks. We didn’t squeeze their pressure.
“We were camped on their line once in the second half, they were camped on our line once in the second half. They came away with the try and we didn’t. That was the difference.”
Centers Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Marshall were both off the field when France scored that late try, but Kidney refused to use their absence as an excuse.
“I don’t think so. The injuries were more in the back
field. Brian and Luke were off but the incidents were in and around the scrum,” he said.
Ireland captain Heaslip said, “The feeling is, that was a match we could have won. A draw is always a strange one. That game in particular we could have won. It’s a bit weird and the changing room is flat.
“There were a lot of positives in the game, but we gave them easy outs at important moments and you shouldn’t give France that opportunity. It’s a hard one to take.”
Ireland had claims for a match winning penalty try late on when winger Earls was impeded by Vincent Debaty as he raced for the corner but the video ref ruled against the home team.
Earls told the Irish Sun, “A lot of decisions there in the second half didn’t go our way. In my eyes it was definitely a penalty. I haven’t seen it, whether to see if it could have been a penalty try but he knocked me off my feet.
“He came across my line so I thought that was a bad decision. In my eyes I thought I would have won the ball. He came across, it wasn’t even a shoulder, he kind of used his elbow and forearm to push me off my feet.”
Ireland have now failed to score in the final 23 minutes of any of their four championship games this season, and scrum half Conor Murray knows it isn’t acceptable.
Man of the match Murray said, “It isn’t good enough, especially when we have put down such good first halves. On Saturday, we had a free kick in the second half and we got to within 10 meters of their line, but then ended up back in our own 22 which isn’t good enough from our point of view.
“We need to be putting away chances like that. We have a game plan and a system that if we do get inside their green zone, which we call it, we need to be coming away with points. So it’s just not good enough from us in the second-half.
“I think our defense is up there with the best in the championship, or at least it was coming into this game. It’s frustrating. We just need to put away our opportunities.
“The championship overall is probably a little disappointing. But we wanted to come out Saturday and put on a good performance and I think we did that for most of the game.
“We just needed to keep the scoreboard ticking over. A positive result in Italy next week, it probably won’t hide things, but it will leave us a in a better place than we were after Scotland.”