15. Rob Kearney – 7.5
Needed a performance after drifting through the opening rounds, and to be fair Kearney responded with his best display of the Championship so far. His left boot was a useful supplement to Murray’s kicking game as Ireland pinned France back in their own territory.
14. Fergus McFadden – 7
An alternative kicking option in case Jackson’s radar was off. That back-up was never required but McFadden still put in a good shift, covering a lot of ground chasing box kicks and generally putting himself about in what would have been a frustrating game for the wingers.
13. Brian O’Driscoll – 7
There’s every possibility this may have been the legend O’Driscoll’s last game at Lansdowne Rd. There were moments during which he reminded us of his quality and irreplaceable value to the Irish team – a piercing grubber which had France on the back foot, and his return to the field to finish the game despite taking a substantial blow to the head in the closing stages. He may not remember his last ten minutes in green at the Aviva but if (when) he does call time on an incredible career no one will forget what a special talent he was.
12. Luke Marshall – 6.5
Marshall looks assured at this level. Though his opportunities in attack were limited, he combined well with O’Driscoll in the midfield to nullify the threat of Fofana, Fritz and Mathieu Bastareaud. He was mistakenly identified as O’Driscoll while making one turnover. Hopefully that’s a positive sign that he possesses the skills to follow in those quite substantial footsteps.
11. Keith Earls – 5
Fumbled a few catches in the wet conditions and didn’t see much of the action, though he came agonisingly close to a winning try in the closing moments. He’ll have to ward of competition from Fitzgerald and Trimble but I expect Declan Kidney will stand by his man.
10. Paddy Jackson – 7
Placed under considerable pressure by the constant questioning of his goal kicking, this was a performance of some merit. Jackson looked to have benefitted from game time with Ulster last weekend, and nailed a difficult conversion from an angle to ease his nerves. Two successful long range penalties capped his first half and he showed great composure to clear from behind the try line.
9. Conor Murray – 8.5
Like Kearney, Murray had been underwhelming thus far. Up against the general Morgan Parra in difficult conditions Murray was expected to struggle. Instead it was the Munster half-back who tormented the French back three with a marvellously varied kicking game. His substitution just after an hour was baffling, and coincided with France beginning to claim a foothold in the game. Even so Murray was rightfully awarded man-of-the-match for his contribution.
1. Cian Healy – 7
Healy made a welcome return to the starting line-up and was essential to Ireland’s hopes of matching the French physically. He struggled early on at scrum time, a couple of early engagements costing Ireland field position, but he overcame those issues and battled gamely against a strong French pack.
2. Rory Best – 7.5
There were none of the lineout problems which hampered the Irish at Murrayfield. Admittedly France put Best under considerably less pressure than Jim Hamilton had in the previous round but he still deserves credit for his accuracy despite the conditions. This also freed Best to do his fair share around the pitch as usual.
3. Mike Ross – 5.5
The scrums weren’t a disaster, but Ireland’s lack of alternative to Ross on the tight-head has really cost them on several occasions recently. He came under heavy pressure towards the end as France closed the gap on Ireland.
4. Mike McCarthy – 6.5
McCarthy has a tendency to take the ball from a static position, yet he still manages to get over the gain line regularly. With clean lineout ball the Irish driving maul was an effective weapon at times, their only try of the game coming directly from that source.
5. Donnacha Ryan – 7
He was probably slightly on the fortunate side not to receive a yellow card for cynically tripping outstanding France no.8 Louis Picamoles. That said Ireland’s primary lineout option can take huge credit for their success in that area, and also in the driving maul.
6. Peter O’Mahony – 6.5
O’Mahony was as aggressive as ever – although a little more control and composure wouldn’t be a bad thing – and worked his socks off in the loose. As a unit the back three had their best game since Wales on the opening weekend.
7. Sean O’Brien – 7.5
One avoidable knock-on was all that blighted O’Brien’s game as he continues to impress following his return from injury. One of three forwards virtually assured of Lions selection, he looks to have regained his appetite for hard and straight running, blitzing opposition defensive systems.
8. Jamie Heaslip (c) – 7
The under fire captain had a decent game, the highlight of which was a first half try courtesy of a second successive well executed driving maul close to the French line. He was also more assertive on the field in the captain’s role, a considerable improvement on his questionable decisions at Murrayfield.
Replacements – 5
One thing I find incredibly frustrating is the use of substitutions which take little heed of the match situation. Conor Murray was by all accounts the stand out Irish back, and deservedly named man of the match despite being replaced by Eoin Reddan just after an hour. Such a decision could only have been made prior to kick off, and was a significant contribution to Ireland’s disappointing final quarter.
Luke Fitzgerald arrived at the same time as Reddan but the game had turned and his opportunities were limited. He’s possibly worth a start next weekend in Rome though. The other replacements were all over the place, a result of Irish injuries sustained in the final quarter. Ian Madigan was introduced to make his international debut, though he finished the game at scrum half after Eoin Reddan was stretchered off.
By Dave Blair