It’s a long time since we saw Ireland get the better of France on home soil. Ironically, that last in-the-flesh success I witnessed was during another period of economic gloom and high unemployment figures.
But instead of a spot on the terrace at the front of the old East Stand, a seat in the magnificent Croke Park proved the location to savour Declan Kidney overseeing an Irish victory against a French team with an eye on the next World Cup.
The Munster/Leinster composition of the team was balanced by a telling Ulster influence, with the Munster spirit and traditional Leinster attacking flair catching flight to great effect.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric and the trips to Croker will be missed once Lansdowne Road re-opens.
The display merited a lap of honour, but its absence was telling. Save it for when there’s something silver with handles on it seemed to be the ‘between the lines’ comment.
In the past, as recently as two years ago, Ireland would have buckled under the sort of pressure France exerted in the final 10 minutes. Not this time.
It was an enjoyable afternoon for many reasons. Brian O’Driscoll justified his retention of the captaincy role, marshalling his backs and securing a brilliant try under the posts.
Wexford’s Gordon D’Arcy sealed victory with his try and despite France’s best efforts, there was no way back for the visitors.
Some French fans we spoke to felt that Heaslip was the star player and he duly received the man of the match award. As usual, Paul O’Connell was brilliant in the lineout and at the fringes.
While Tomas O’Leary worked well, his kicks were occasionally too long as were Ronan O’Gara’s yet still the day belonged to Ireland.
French out half Lionel Beauxis showed some great kicking skills through a couple of drop goals and some superb tactical kicks to the wings, one yielding a try for Maxime Medard.
Irish wings Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe (whose father hails from the Deise) were prominent at both ends of the field and made several decisive tackles.
Full-back Rob Kearney was a reliable rock for Ireland last Saturday and made catching an incoming ball under huge pressure look simple.
While the other home match is one to look forward to – England on the 28th, there’s a lot of tough rugby to be played yet, and holders Wales look dangerous again after their win in Murrayfield. Write the men from the valleys off at your peril.
The trip to the Millennium Stadium on March 21st could yet prove a Championship/Triple Crown/Grand Slam decider, but it’s vital to temper expectations.
Overall, this was a most entertaining game in a great stadium on a freezing day in the fair city, from which the snow capped Dublin Mountains could be observed.
The country badly needed a lift and our rugby team duly provided it on Saturday.