In sports, sometimes a title is handed to the winning team. However, more often than not, it takes a number of incidents going the way of the winning team, combined with some seriously hard toil, for that team to lift the trophy.
Ireland’s Six Nations triumph, confirmed last night in Paris, was very much in the latter category.
Goodness gracious did France show up.
The hosts fought with a desire and passion barely seen in the rest of the tournament, with a couple of notable exceptions (particularly in coming back to beat England on their home turf a handful of weeks ago). France quite literally threw the kitchen sink at an Irish defence that wobbled a few times, but managed to just about hold itself together.
You could be forgiven for thinking the French for ‘Kitchen Sink’ was Mathieu Bastareaud, as the hosts fired the Toulon centre time and again like a cannonball at the Irish defence. At times the French assault was ferocious, particularly right at the death, where a misplaced pass stopped them from scoring the winning try.
You could argue that passage of play can be held up as a summary of the Six Nations. England failed to turn back the late French assault. Ireland held firm. In those two battles the Six Nations was lost (by England) and then won (by Ireland).
That summary could be construed as taking something away from the visitors. Anything could be further from the truth. In going to France and beating the hosts, Ireland rubber stamped their seal on the tournament, and deserve it fully after a wonderful display full of not only brilliant defence (heroic, you could say without much of an exaggeration) but also some stirring, clever attacking play that produced three stunning tries.
For many the man of the hour was Brian O’Driscoll, and it is very hard to dismiss the wonderful narrative hat played out in his favour on the day. O’Driscoll, who is now retired from International Rugby Union, came to the fore as a swift, pacey 20 year old with a hat-trick of tries in an Irish win in Paris. Hollywood screenwriters would be hard-pressed to come up with a better narrative than the one that finished with the great man, O’Driscoll, finishing his career with another win in Paris, this time securing the Six Nations for Ireland in the process.
You quite literally would struggle to make up a story line with that strong a narrative.
O’Driscoll was immense on the night, particularly in defence, but a couple of other Irish players deserve high praise for their performances.
Rob Kearney showed that he is the finest fullback in the Six Nations with a wonderfully athletic, confident display. Kearney is an incredible athlete, sure, but most of all, he is a brilliant ball player. He is one of those talents that just sees things differently to the rest of us mere mortals. He is a simply higher-level of talent than most.
The only blot on his copybook was a rash kick right at the end that almost led to disaster, however he played well enough to be allowed that bit of luck in his favour.
Somewhat overlooked perhaps, with O’Driscoll’s retirement, was the performance of another Irish legend, Paul O’Connell. The big man was an absolute rock in defence and as a trust worthy ball carrier when the game was on the line and Ireland needed to retain possession. O'Connell turned back the hands of time to deliver a tour de force showing that had energy, power and tact in spades.
Those are just three of the Irish heroes on the night, there were many more, and there had to be, as ferocious and passionate as he French played.
The ultimate prize came down to Ireland surviving the ultimate test, a visit to Paris.
That’s essentially what the Six Nations came down to.
England couldn't hold back the wave of blue.
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