Ireland didn’t lose in Paris for the first time in 12 years, but try telling that to the players who trooped off the Stade de France pitch with dejection as their best friend on Sunday evening after a 17-17 draw.

A brave first half performance gave way to a battling second half defensive display as Ireland drew a game they could have won and might have lost.

Two Tommy Bowe tries, one described by Irish rugby legend Tony Ward as the best he has ever seen from a team in green, and seven points from the boot of Jonathon Sexton helped the visitors to a 17-6 interval lead.

But this was not to be Ireland’s day as they sought a first win over French soil since Brian O’Driscoll scored a hat-trick of tries back in 2000.

O’Driscoll, injured and watching on TV back home in Dublin, was hardly missed as Ireland took the re-arranged game to their French hosts three weeks after it was postponed due to a frozen pitch.

The Irish were on fire in that opening half and then stood up to everything France could have thrown at them in a crazy second period when a Wesley Fofana try and two penalties from Morgan Parra pulled the Blues level.

Both sides had chances to win it in a frantic final five minutes, but ultimately the draw was the fairest result even if it does neither team any good in championship terms.

“I was interviewed after the game and they said, ‘You must be happy with that result,’ but it’s a pretty hard pill to swallow,” Irish flanker Jamie Heaslip said afterwards.

 “We came here to win and outscored France two tries to one, so to draw is a mixed bag. It’s frustrating. We were confident at halftime. We’ll look at the penalties, some of them we might agree with, some of them we might not.

“The self-belief was there, it’s always there. We don’t doubt ourselves.”

Even Bowe was reluctant to celebrate his two try haul on a day that might have produced so much more for the visitors.

“I’m delighted to score against France, tries against them aren’t easy to come by so to get over twice in one day is very satisfying,” the 28-year-old said after his 23rd and 24th international tries on his 47th cap.

“But of course you would hope to get a victory out of it, but unfortunately we didn’t. In the second half

I barely touched the ball which is a huge disappointment. It’s bittersweet.”
Captain Paul O’Connell, who picked up a knee injury that has ruled him out of the remaining two games, was just as dejected.

“There’s certainly a big feeling of defeat and an opportunity lost,” said O’Connell. “We’re very frustrated and very disappointed.

“We scored an intercept try and one really good, well worked try. We then conceded a really soft, poor try and we’re really disappointed with our second-half performance.”

Ireland: Kearney; Bowe, Earls, D’Arcy, Trimble; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ferris, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: Ryan for O’Callaghan 58 mins; Reddan for Murray 59 mins; O’Mahony for O’Brien 66 mins; O’Gara for D’Arcy 71 mins; McFadden for Trimble 73 mins; Cronin for Best 75 mins; Court for Healy 75 mins.
Kearney’s Hope
ROB Kearney has told his Irish teammates to forget Paris and put all their energies into beating Scotland at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.

Kearney, brilliant again against the French on Sunday, wants Ireland to prove their pedigree against the Scots.

“We’re a good team and we know what we can achieve,” said the Leinster full-back. “On our day we can muscle up with any side in the game and we did that against France, but the margins are so small.

“Maybe we’re lacking that one or two per cent of a killer instinct. These games are decided by tiny margins. If we develop just another 1% of a killer instinct, we can close these games out.”

The Louth born Ireland star is also adamant that self-pity will do his team no good ahead of the Scottish match.

“You need to be an 80-minute team to win games and Scotland will pose a massive threat on Saturday,” he added.

“They’re a good team and like ourselves they’ve had a couple of unlucky games. It will be a massive match. It won’t be difficult to pick ourselves up because you can’t afford to be like that.

“We’re lucky to be back in Dublin in front of our own fans. We need to get a win.’’

Injury Issues
IRELAND coach Declan Kidney has been hit with a double whammy ahead of Saturday’s clash with Scotland at the Aviva Stadium.

Captain Paul O’Connell and scrum-half Conor Murray have both been ruled out of Ireland’s remaining Six Nations game.

O’Connell faces up to six weeks on the sidelines with a knee ligament injury and is now a doubt for Munster’s big Heineken Cup quarterfinal against Ulster at the start of April.

The big Limerick man played all 80 minutes against France on Sunday but damaged the knee with the full extent of the injury confirmed after a scan in Dublin on Monday.
Murray, who was stretchered off in Paris, is out for up to four weeks after also damaging a knee in the French game.

Eoin Reddan and Declan Ryan will come into the team to play Scotland with Tomas O’Leary and Mike McCarthy added to the squad ahead of Wednesday’s team announcement.
Kidney, annoyed by the penalty count in Paris on Sunday, has paid tribute to his players for their efforts against the French.

He said, “We did not go to Paris to draw, we went there to win and to represent the people of Ireland in the best way possible.

“That is why I am immensely proud of the boys. I think that we went at it hard but we could not get that win we were looking for.”

Celtic League
THREE of the four Irish provinces won Celtic League games at the weekend. Munster beat the Dragons 24-14 in Wales, Leinster won 22-6 away to Aironi and Ulster were 38-16 winners at home to Edinburgh. Connacht went down 38-10 at the Scarlets.

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 04: Keith Earls of Ireland is tackled during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 4, 2012 in Paris, France.Getty Images