The Stade de France was the scene for Brian O’Driscoll’s final international game and it proved to be a real cracker, a fitting tribute to Ireland’s most capped player.
Ireland held out in Paris, despite heavy French pressure late on, to secure a narrow 22-20 win and seal the 2014 Championship.
Setting the scene
Ireland began their 2014 campaign in style, with comfortable wins at home to Scotland and Wales, winning 28-6 and 26-3 respectively.
A narrow defeat at Twickenham in round three threw the destination of the trophy into doubt and left Ireland needing to win in Paris to have a shot at glory.
Following Ireland’s 46-7 victory over Italy, O’Driscoll’s last international on Irish soil, the record-breaking centre was humbled by his reception, but targeted a win over France.
He said: “It had to come to an end at some stage and I am glad to go out at home with a big win.
“It will only properly set in when I have had a bit of time.
“Hopefully next week there is a performance and a Championship in this team, we have to go to France with huge positivity.
“It is one thing playing in this jersey but another thing altogether winning in this jersey.”
France, meanwhile, had recorded a crucial 26-24 win over England on the opening weekend, but a 27-6 defeat in Cardiff had left them with an outside chance of snatching the title, needing a big win over the Irish.
How the action unfolded
France took an early lead through two Maxime Machenaud penalties, but Ireland scored the game’s first try, Jonathan Sexton nipping over to bring Ireland to within a point of the hosts.
A few minutes later Conor Murray dummied past the French defence on their 22 and found Andrew Trimble, who sped over for Ireland’s second.
France hit back through Brice Dulin who was first to react to Yoann Huget’s clever offload following Remi Tales’ crossfield kick.
There was nearly a fairytale ending for O’Driscoll, on the scene of his hat-trick in 2001 which announced him as a key player on the international rugby scene and was the last occasion Ireland had won in Paris.
Trimble broke through the French back line and found O’Driscoll in space, but he was hauled down a few metres short of the try line.
A couple of phases later and Sexton burst through for his second and Ireland’s third try to make it 22-13. France were far from finished though and when Dimitri Szarzewski squeezed the ball down against the post, they brought themselves within two points.
There was a late scare for Ireland as No.8 Damien Chouly found space on the right wing to score in the corner, only for play to be brought back for a forward pass.
Amid late French pressure, Ireland won a turnover at the breakdown to seal the perfect send off for O’Driscoll.
What they said
Ireland icon O’Driscoll was understandably delighted after the game.
He said: “It’s great to finish on a high in my last game in this magnificent jersey.
“It’s a magnificent feeling. When it properly sinks in tomorrow when we get home and I’m able to reflect upon it, I’m sure there will be a few tears.
“It has been a fantastic Championship for us, I’ve enjoyed every second.
“I don’t want to take this jersey off yet because I know when I take it off that will be the last time and it will be weird if I put it on at home and start walking around in it.”
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was keen to praise his star man and his side’s discipline.
He said: “The fairytale continued right to the end for the magic man and I’m just delighted for him.
“We’ve shown incredible discipline right through the tournament and I think it was a credit to the players today that they maintained their discipline right to the finish.”
France coach Phillipe Saint-Andre reflected on the narrow margin of defeat and how disappointing it was for France to have come so close.
He said: “Sometimes it’s better to win ugly than to have lost like this.
“Congratulations to Ireland, they played well but I think our young team did very well.
“If we had a little bit more of the control we should have won.”
What happened next
O’Driscoll would go on to win the Guinness Pro14 and the British & Irish Cup with Leinster that season.
Ireland retained their Championship title in 2015, pipping England and Wales on points difference, while France finished fourth with just two wins from five.