Six Nations 2021: Ireland a side in trouble after France defeat with no let-up in sight

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France celebrated a first Six Nations win in Dublin since 2011 to end any Irish hopes of contending for this year’s title

In the end, the ball bouncing right into Ronan Kelleher’s bread basket served only as a reminder that this is sport, and anything can happen even when everything your eyes are showing you points to a different outcome.

The second half to that point had been a fairly harrowing showing from the hosts, as France began to showcase their superior skillset having been quiet in a first half briefly illuminated by a wonderful Charles Ollivon try.

The curtains were nearly drawn inside two minutes of the restart when Julien Marchand’s brutal carry down the middle was stopped short inches from the line, with Antoine Dupont’s subsequent pass bouncing off the head of Paul Willemse with a try appearing a near certainty.

It was a comical end to a rampant move that has no doubt already been the subject of much laughter in the French dressing room.

It was a botched opportunity, but they knew another one was just around the corner. France will create chances – even when they are far from their best.

This is not a certainty currently extended to Ireland, and it is hurting them badly.

“We’re not taking the opportunities that are presenting themselves for us,” said Sunday’s captain Iain Henderson, even though in truth the home side created few.

“We were in good positions for a lot of the game…more so than France but when France got their opportunities they took them.

“There’s a huge amount of frustration. You are seeing guys putting in the time, trying their best to progress on the pitch but I think it’s that last couple of inches.

“You get into the opposition 22…and it’s those last couple of metres that are actually extremely difficult to get. No-one’s going to give up, our coaching staff and our players, to continually push to get this.”

Brice Dulin's last-gasp tackle prevented James Lowe scoring an Ireland try in the first half
James Lowe’s near-miss was the only time Ireland came close to scoring a try in the first half on Sunday

Possession without clinical edge counts for little

Last year Ireland met expectation but no more, and given the disruption caused by the pandemic that was rightly deemed a fair enough return.

Where they won the games they were supposed to, they never came close to causing an upset in the matches into which they arrived underdogs.

As we moved into 2021 that was always where Ireland’s success would be measured; can they show that they have moved closer to the teams above them?

The answer based on the opening two games is reflected in the Six Nations standings.

The game against Wales became an entirely different beast from the moment Peter O’Mahony was shown red, but against France at home there were no caveats.

The scoreboard will suggest a game won on fine margins, but anyone who watched it knows that narrative paints a picture of the final 20 minutes as opposed to the opening hour.

In the first half Ireland saw more of the ball and enjoyed more time in opposition territory than France but only once, through James Lowe, did they come close to crossing the whitewash.

A possession-based game only counts for something when there’s a clinical edge to turn control of the ball into a tangible reward.

Farrell insists Irish ‘not far away’

Farrell, as you would expect from a head coach, insists his side are not far away from where they want to be – and that their two defeats came in games which could have gone either way. In-so-far as they were both one-score losses, he is right.

“They had a couple of chances and this was it. They took their chances,” said the head coach.

“It was formidable. When they got the chance to punch through us first phase to get us on the back foot on the gain-line, and second phase coming round the corner and getting their offloading game going.

“It happened on a few occasions but those few were one too many because they were clinical enough to go and score the try.

“It’s fine margins. You get seldom opportunities like this against a side with the quality of France.”

In the end it was fine margins – a two-point deficit that gave us the heart-in-mouth finish the Six Nations so often provides.

But it was a mirage. Ireland were within a penalty or drop-goal of beating France, but in real terms the gap between the two sides is much bigger, and growing wider.

The tight finish, and the bounce of a ball, should not detract from the fact that Ireland are a side in trouble, and with Scotland and England still to come, there is no let-up in sight.

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