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Ireland beat France to top pool to set up quarterfinal clash with Argentina

FEATURED COLUMNIST
233   //    12 Oct 2015, 18:04 IST
Ian Madigan's performance against France was very impressive

In what was an absolutely brutal battle for top spot in Pool D, Ireland prevailed over France 24-9 to end up as winners of their pool at the 2015 Rugby World Cup inside the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Joe Schmidt’s charges produced a rousing performance, possibly their best of the tournament so far as they resigned the French to be content with second place.

The victory came at a cost though as Jonathan Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony all left the game with injuries and didn’t return.After going into half-time with a 9-6 lead, Ireland scored two tries in the second half through Rob Kearney and Conor Murray to seal the deal for the Irish. Sexton had 14 points from his boot from penalties and conversions, and his replacement, Ian Madigan, picked up from where Sexton left it.

Cheered on by a raucous crowd that resembled a sea of green, Ireland were in buoyant mood from the start. The early stages saw both defences being put to the test with Ireland and France more than standing tall in preventing the other from getting any early advantage.

France did earn the first penalty though, which Frederic Michalak failed to convert. The Frenchman had been one of the star men for Les Bleus in the tournament before this and as such had even been earmarked by the Irish as a threat in the build up to the game.

That miss saw Michalak hand over kicking duties for the day to full-back Scott Spedding at the next penalty when on 10 minutes Ireland were penalized for collapsing a scrum. Spedding’s effort however struck the upright and fell back into play. 

And France were made to pay for those misses as Sexton put Ireland in front with a penalty of their own less than two minutes later. France levelled though soon after as Spedding made no mistake with his second effort.

The game saw the ball strike the upright once again, this time when Sexton’s drop-goal attempt thudded against the post. A penalty was awarded though against France and Sexton put the Irish back in front again. Spedding pulled France back once again after a high tackle by O’Mahony on Guilhem Guirado.

The game looked to be following exactly in the pattern of each of their previous five meetings where there hadn’t been more than seven points between the two sides. Sexton was on the receiving end of quite a few crunching tackles, just as the French had promised, and after taking a second huge hit, was forced off holding what looked like his midriff area.

It was a huge moment in the game as Ireland lost one of their key man and even the Irish fans in the crowd had some worried faces about them. However, replacement Madigan’s showing managed to change all of that.

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Ireland soon earned a penalty which Madigan converted with aplomb from 42 metres out to send his side into half-time with a three-point advantage. It could have been more had Keith Earls not fluffed receiving the ball after a sweeping midfield move that saw Tommy Bowe break into space and deliver a perfect scoring pass to him. The crowd gasped in exasperation at the missed opportunity. 

France began on the front foot in the second half as they looked to score the first try of the game. However, Ireland’s resolute defence managed to repel their efforts, but they ended up losing captain O’Connell in the process to injury. And it didn’t look good for the veteran as the 35-year-old was taken off on a stretcher and looks to have played his last match at the tournament and possibly his career.

After the initial French press though, Ireland managed to seize the advantage and started gaining in strength with Madigan showing flashes of brilliance. The pressure finally paid off as after much patient build up and attacking, Murray’s pass from just in front of the French line set up Kearney for the touchdown.

Despite the failed conversion from Madigan, Ireland had now established some elbow room. O’Mahony soon followed Sexton and O’Connell into the locker room, he too carried off on a stretcher. 

France rang the changes too and replacement Morgan Parra reduced the deficit by three points with his penalty kick 17 minutes from time. But despite France upping the ante, looking for the try, Ireland stood steadfast and wave after wave of French attacks were repelled.

Ireland soon landed the sucker punch after good work from Jamie Heaslip, Devin Toner and Sean O’Brien saw Murray cross over the French line at the base of the posts with the ball in hand. Madigan rounded things off with the conversion which proved to be the final points scored in the match.

Ireland now have a date with Argentina in what promises to be a cracking encounter next Sunday while France will play defending champions New Zealand the previous day, both at this very stadium. The latter is sure to evoke memories of France’s famous upset win over the All Blacks at that very ground eight years ago in the 2007 tournament.

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