MELBOURNE, Australia – The question ahead of France’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal clash against Ireland in Melbourne on Sunday was which French team would turn up, the good one or the bad one.
Unfortunately for the Irish, the good one turned up. For one half at least.
Les Bleus used a brilliant first-half performance in scoring 27 unanswered points to send Ireland home from the World Cup with a 43-21 victory.
Ireland, however, can take great consolation from its stirring second-half performance as it refused to lie down and managed to score three superb tries.
“We knew today would be a hard game,” explained French captain Fabien Galthie. “We played a great first half. I am very happy for the team and the French people.”
France opened the scoring as early as the third minute when inspirational flyhalf Frederic Michalak sent over a clever cross-kick that bounced kindly for the French. Imanol Harinordoquy scooped up the ball, fed center Tony Marsh who in turn passed to Olivier Magne to cross over for the try.
Michalak converted the try and proved to be France’s answer to England’s Jonny Wilkinson, being successful with all nine kicks he had at goal.
Ireland attempted to apply pressure after the early French onslaught but handling errors let it down and France capitalized on yet another loose pass from the Ireland backs. The result, a breakaway try for French winger Aurelien Rougerie.
Harinordoquy added another try to his and France’s tally late in the second half to silence the predominantly Irish crowd.
At 27-0 down at the break, it would have been easy for Irish heads to drop but the manner in which they approached the second half will allow them to leave the tournament with their heads held high.
After France had scored another try through Jean Jacques Crenca to make the score 37-0, Irish center Kevin Maggs turned on the gas to burst through the French defense and score a brilliant solo try.
This served to ignite the Irish team, which followed with another try, this time by man-of-the-match Brian O’Driscoll after a chip ahead by replacement flyhalf David Humphreys.
O’Driscoll had an excellent game, his quick hands and hard running proving a constant thorn in the French side, and he was rewarded in the last minute of the match with a second try to give the scoreline some respectability.
“The first half let us down but we showed a lot of spirit to come back in the second,” Irish captain Keith Wood said.