15. Rob Kearney: 7.5
To say that he’s dependable is an underestimation of the security he provides Ireland at the back. On more than one occasion he cleared Irish lines with typical conviction, and he was a threat in both set and broken play but he loses a mark for a loose kick with just minutes remaining which invited French pressure.
14. Andrew Trimble: 9
Ronan O’Gara said afterwards that young kids would go to bed on Saturday night dreaming of being Andrew Trimble. After running in Ireland’s second try, Trimble never looked back. His box kick chase, a feature of these championships, was again superb and with the ball in hand he made good inroads, gaining 85 metres with 11 carries and making the break which led to Sexton’s second.
13. Brian O’Driscoll: 7.5
Cap no. 133 for Ireland, his last of 141 in total. O’Driscoll’s man of the match award was a nice, probably unnecessary, goodwill gesture from French television but shows how highly they regard him in Paris. He was denied a try, but not the fairytale finale as he hung up the ‘magnificent’ jersey which has been his own for the last time.
12. Gordon D’Arcy: 7
A troubled start to the game included an uncharacteristic spill and a couple of poorly executed tackles against a rampaging Mathieu Bastareaud. However, D’Arcy’s recovery was as good as those early moments were bad and he finished with a creditable 13 tackles – third amongst the Irish team.
11. Dave Kearney: 7.5
Kearney’s first instinct is to run the ball, and more often than not he made good gains in broken play but there was one occasion that he got caught infield and a penalty resulted. His final contribution was huge, leaving his wing and forcing a rushed pass which, had it not gone forward, would have broken Irish hearts.
10. Johnny Sexton: 7
Normally when your fly-half scores two tries you’d consider that a fairly successful outing, but apart from the two lines he picked through the French defence it was a frustrating evening for Sexton. Crucially he nailed the penalty which gave Ireland a nine point cushion, but he missed a simple conversion and a penalty which would have put Ireland ahead at half-time, the consequences of which could have been huge. Thankfully the collision with Bastareaud which ended his game doesn’t appear to have affected his celebrations.
9. Conor Murray: 8.5
Not all of his box kicks were on the money but it’s an area of his game which has improved immeasurably and he gave Trimble and the Kearneys a fighting chance to compete more often than not. Murray needed no second invitation to set up Trimble for Ireland’s second. Where the French inside defence went is a mystery, but the Munster half-back showed great awareness to spot the opportunity.
1. Cian Healy: 8
Leinster’s loose-head with a tough nut regularly crossed the gain-line when Ireland built phases, but in truth he was lucky not to spend ten minutes in the bin for a reckless torpedo like hit leading with the head on Picamoles. Ireland’s platform in the set-piece was strong with the first line front-row on the field.
2. Rory Best: 8.5
This has been an excellent championship for the Ulsterman, Ireland’s lineout has had a 93% success rate which, as proved in Paris, hasn’t solely been due to the giant frame of Devin Toner in the second row. Toner was actually used less than O’Connell and O’Mahony in the Stade de France but Best’s darts were still superb, and his 13 tackles demonstrated the work load he gets through week on week.
3. Mike Ross: 8
Ross made an excellent start to the game as Steve Walsh took an immediate dislike to Domingo’s antics in the scrum. The Leinster tight-head was able to take advantage, with Walsh seemingly unaware of his dubious binding, and give Ireland a foothold in the game after going 6-0 down.
4. Devin Toner: 7.5
Ireland mixed up the lineout with Paul O’Connell taking a captain’s lead, so only three throws came to Toner during the match. His all round game has improved sufficiently that he was still able to make an impact, playing a part in the choke tackle which ended proceedings.
5. Paul O’Connell: 8.5
The captain was superb, and with Brian O’Driscoll now a former international, he’ll take on even more responsibility as Ireland build towards the world cup in 18 months. After France had taken a 6-0 lead O’Connell had to recompose his team and rose for a restart which said a lot about his leadership. With 14 tackles, and a key turnover after half-time, O’Connell was instrumental in halting French momentum.
6. Peter O’Mahony: 7
Back after missing the Italian game with a hamstring injury, perhaps O’Mahony wasn’t 100% fit but he didn’t manage to reproduce his form from earlier in the championship. The Munster blindside was as safe as usual at the back of the lineout though.
7. Chris Henry: 8.5
Unfairly pinged at the breakdown in the opening minutes, it looked as though Steve Walsh would make it a difficult evening for Ireland. But the ever consistent workaholic continued to impress and even made an impact in the loose, carrying three times in phases leading to Sexton’s first try before offloading superbly to the Leinster fly-half. His 15 tackles topped the Irish charts and he was almost always in the vicinity to tidy up any loose ball.
8. Jamie Heaslip: 8
With an impressive 13 carries and 14 tackles Heaslip had a busy evening as he endeavoured to match the physicality of Picamoles and Chouly in the French back-row. Ireland’s iron man at the base of the scrum still has an unbelievable engine.
Iain Henderson chipped in with 6 tackles in the final quarter including a vitally important hit after France had won that last scrum against the head, and Eoin Reddan continued his good form when Schmidt trusted his former Leinster scrum-half to see out the remainder of the game.
Ian Madigan was controversially brought in for Paddy Jackson, but played a solid last 15 minutes after Sexton had left the field. Ireland might have been quicker to set up a drop goal opportunity before France were able to apply pressure late in the game.
Marty Moore, Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin have been the definition of an impact front row in these championships playing a significant part in Ireland’s success, and they again made their involvement count even if Steve Walsh favoured the French scrum in the last quarter.
By David Blair (@viscount_dave)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images