Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cracker At Croke Park

Six Nations Game 6 - Ireland vs France (17-20)

History was made today when Rugby was played for the very first time at Croke Park, the fantastic stadium owned by the GAA. Looks like there was a superb atmosphere in the place, and I'm not sure I've ever heard the anthems sung with as much passion!

Two missing links for Ireland today were captain Brian O'Driscoll and Scrum Half Peter Stringer [left], both missing the game through injury.

The French forwards hard a early driving maul and the subsequent move made Ireland infringe - David Skrela took the 3 points. Then the French disrupted an Irish lineout and won a scrum against the head, making by far the best start to the game. Another 3 points followed quickly, but by 13-odd minutes in, Ireland woke up, the French came in from the side at a ruck and Ronon O'Gara popped the ball over Ireland's first 3 points.

Ireland's comeback didn't last long when Geordan Murphy's mis-tackle let Franch Captain Raphael IbaƱez [right] in for a great try, Skrela adding the two points, leaving Ireland 10 points down.

Ireland then won a solid lineout close to the French 10m line, but the passes in midfield were a mess, and even the following Irish scrum could not make any ground.

A couple of minutes later, the Irish had an attacking lineout at 5m and went for a catch and drive, but the midfield passing caused the French to give away another penalty in their half and O'Gara punted 3 points.

The French forwards seemed to have the upper hand, wheeling the odd scrum and certainly giving as good as they got. But after 30 mins, Ireland had a 22m lineout in French territory. Several phases later and a couple of dummies from Ronan O'Gara, a great back pass from flanker David Wallace [left] and O'Gara was over the line to rapturous applause. The conversion went wide, but Ireland were back within 2 points of France.

Rory Best was penalised for slowing the ball down at a ruck, but Skrela missed the posts and the score remained 11-13. France won a scrum an Imanol Harinordoquy [right] made a big break - France looked sure to score but Geordan Murphy's defence close to the line saved the try. Skrela missed another penalty just before half time, and Ireland were lucky to go back to the changing rooms trailing by just 2 points.

Ireland made a brighter start to the second half, taking control of the ball. Sebastian Chabal was penalised twice in quick succession and Ireland won an attacking lineout in the French half but they weren't able to get very far. Ref Steve Walsh was rather quick with his whistle at one point when France had knocked on, and Geordan Murphy [left] thought he was in for a try, but play was deemed to have stopped. Queue lots of jeering from the stands!

Ireland had a go at the French from a turnover ball, and looked dangerous for a few phases, but they ultimately knocked on and France won it back. Denis Hickey made a great break in midfield, but he could not reach the hands of his receiver. The teams played ping-pong with a bit of kicking until Mignoni lost the ball in touch - all of a sudden, Ireland had a lineout in the French 10m line but didn't take advantage of it.

The Irish began to pile the pressure on with several attacking phases, forcing France into making errors. Harinordoquy came in from the side at 55 minutes, and O'Gara duely punished the French by kicking Ireland into a slender 1-point lead.

With just over 10 minutes to go, there was a spate of substitutions, but Ireland looked like they were gaining the upper hand. A fumble from Harinordoquy led to an Irish attacking lineout - a few phases later and France had turned it over.

An Irish scrum was nearly wheeled a bit later, but Ulsterman Isaac Boss [right, now without chinstrap beard] did well to kick for touch. The French lineout was won, but the ball changed hands several times in the next few minutes, with both sides desperate to put more points on the board.

Replacement back Andrew Trimble [left] made a good break too, the last Irish hand knocked on and the opportunity was lost.

The Irish scrum wobbled a bit and Boss was penalised for not feeding a steady scrum, giving France a chance at a drop goal - Bauxis hit the post and Hickey' clearance went straight back to French hands. Ibanez was substituted but then Ireland won a penalty. The last ten minutes were agony - even for an English supporter!

The Irish forwards mauled their hearts out and made a good few yards before the French brought it down. Penalty Ireland. Cue O'Gara's kick, on the French 10m line. Croke Park was silent until it sailed over the posts. Cue hysteria! Beautiful strike.

Danger hit immediately after when Franced rushed into the Irish half and Vincent Clerc [right] took the ball over the line. With the conversion good, Ireland had let the game slip away as Mignoni punted it into the stands.

What a cracking game - so nearly Ireland's up til one minute from the end.

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