RTE 2.00 Irish fans have given the All Blacks the run for their money when it comes to the World Cup, with the country’s leading domestic player showing his all-round prowess against France in Paris on Sunday.
The 24-year-old, who has been a fixture in the Irish squad since the age of 15, opened the scoring with a superb half-time strike and then added a second for the hosts as they pulled off a shock win to secure a place in next year’s World Series.
It was a superb display by Ireland’s No. 9 and his side will now be looking to make up ground when they face off with Italy on Wednesday.
“The atmosphere was great and I can’t complain at all,” said Ireland captain Joe Schmidt, whose side also beat Australia in the final of the Six Nations in London.
“I think it’s just a case of them playing well, doing well, and then just making the most of the opportunity.”
It was all a bit of a blur for Ireland, who went into the game having just lost their opening Six Nations game to Italy.
The hosts were looking to build on that impressive run to beat the Irish at the Millennium Stadium, where they had beaten the hosts 15-7 on the opening day of the tournament.
But the Irish couldn’t find the equaliser, as France opened the score at 10-0 in the 34th minute.
And the French had plenty to go for in the second half, as they scored three tries to lead 24-14 at the break.
But it wasn’t until the 63rd minute that Ireland’s best chance of the second-half came.
It looked as though the All Black lineout was going well until they were bowled out of the scrum, with Schmidt leading a lineout for his captain.
With the ball in the French seven, Schmidt took a quick tap and the ball dropped for an easy one-handed finish.
The result was a penalty, as the ball was sent back to the lineout.
With their hopes of making a third World Cup appearance for the first time since 1995 now looking slim, Schmidt had a message for the French: “You’ve got to get the ball out of your scrum.”
And it did.
A clever, quick pass from Ireland’s scrum-half, Kieran Read, found the loose ball in a pocket of space behind the defence.
Read took it through the Irish defence and fired a low drive that beat the bar, and the All Whites added another late penalty to seal a victory for their arch-rivals.
“It’s very pleasing.
It’s a great way to start the season,” Schmidt said.”
We have a good squad with a great group of players.
We’ve got a few players that are good, a few guys that have had good experience in Europe, and I’m very proud of the players.”
For Schmidt, the goal was just the start of his season-high in tries, as he’s now scored 17 in the tournament, which has come after a disappointing campaign in the past.
“You can’t underestimate the work that I’ve done to get to where I am today,” he said.
“I feel like I’m at a very good stage in my career.”
In terms of the team, the performance tonight, it’s been very pleasing.
“The hosts have been beaten in the last two matches by France, and they’ve struggled against Argentina in the group stages of the last World Cup.
Ireland will have to be much better against the likes of Italy and Argentina in their last two World Cup qualifiers, but Schmidt’s side are still in contention.”
If we play well and keep our focus and get a few more points, it will be a very nice feeling,” he added.”
But we’ll be looking forward to facing Italy and playing in front of the home crowd again.
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