Beyond the next match, even beyond this Six Nations and the prospect of an Irish Grand Slam, there is the World Cup. After Ireland’s extraordinary 32-19 victory over France, Johnny Sexton finally let slip that he was thinking about it too, like everyone else.
“If everything goes according to plan and we get through our squad, there’s a chance we’ll face France again in the World Cup,” he said. “So it was good to get rid of that, in terms of beating them, because they were the only team we didn’t beat.” France had won the last three matches between them.
France and Ireland, the two best teams in the world, will meet in the quarter-finals of the tournament if one wins its group and the other finishes second. Considering the way they are here, it is perhaps more likely that they will meet in the final.
“That was a high-end test match, wasn’t it?” Sexton said, “It’s what everyone wanted, and it’s what everyone got. That first half, wow, it was just stuff through and through.
Sexton didn’t spend long thinking that far ahead. Ireland face Italy in a fortnight. “We knew how important this game was in terms of the league, but it’s no good if we let it slip away in the next game,” he said. “It was clear from the start what we want to achieve. We won a triple crown last year and we said we wanted to improve this year, well, to improve is to win the championship and a Grand Slam. To achieve this, you need to focus on the next two weeks.
Always a perfectionist, he already had clear ideas about what Ireland needed to improve. “Right away, we have to look at the chances we have created. At halftime we explained that we only had a 50% success rate on the chances we had when we were close to their line. We were held up a few times and also had the chance to get the ball into space earlier a few times.
“So there is plenty to work on. There always are. You never leave a match thinking “it was perfect”. Andy Farrell agreed his team “could have come away with a few more points”.
As for France, she wondered if Ireland had five more than she should have had. James Lowe’s feet were so close when he scored his second try and French TV quickly found an angle the refereeing team appeared to have missed, suggesting he should have been disallowed.
” What can I say ? said head coach Fabien Galthié. “At the time, we could see that his foot was in contact. But to be fair, there was a linesman three meters from the action. There were pictures, but they didn’t come out until after the trial was over.
Galthié felt that Ireland “should have had five points less at the end”, but he did not blame them for the loss. He said his side exposed themselves by trying to play too much rugby in their own half and expended so much energy doing so that they ran out of steam in the second half.
He was typically philosophical about it all. “We came here to win. It’s a defeat. It’s true that it’s been two years since we lost a match, we were on a 14-game winning streak, and the streak is over,” he said. “So we also have to learn to live with defeat. We don’t like her on this team, she’s not a friend, but we’ll have to spend the evening with her.