Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said “character” had been the pivotal factor in his side’s impressive 32-19 Six Nations victory over defending champions France in a match he labelled as a “titanic game.”
The Irish largely dominated to lay down a marker not only for a potential Grand Slam but also the World Cup later this year.
Ireland are still to make a semi-final at the global showpiece.
In a match featuring the world’s top two sides, number one Ireland secured a record 13th successive home Test win in style with four tries.
Pleasing for Farrell too was that they managed to see themselves home despite talismanic fly-half Johnny Sexton having to go off with half an hour remaining.
“We have won a titanic game,” said Farrell. “Character won it. The fight, the want to cover each other’s back. The togetherness and spirit we have got, it was great to be able to show everyone else that.
“The instances of people playing not too much rugby and coming back to play like that when the chips are down is just remarkable.”
Farrell, celebrating his first win over the French since he took over after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, said he had been left perplexed by the French strategy.
“I was a little bit surprised how they went about their game in the first half,” said the 48-year-old Englishman.
“How much ball they played in and around halfway, they’re normally very pragmatic as far as that’s concerned.
“I don’t know if that’s anything to do with it, but, wow, when you say they’re sloppy, I don’t necessarily agree with that. You’re always five seconds away from something pretty remarkable.”
The French did prove Farrell’s point with their only try, a remarkable effort started inside their 22 and finished off by Damian Penaud.
Farrell said he didn’t feel comfortable in the second-half when the Irish were for the most part just six points ahead.
“As far as Antoine Dupont or two of the wingers are concerned, I don’t know if anyone tackled them throughout the full 80 minutes to be honest,” he said.
“Even I was exhausted and I didn’t even play the game. It was a top-end Test match that everyone wanted and everyone got that. We’re fortunate to come out the right side of the scoreboard.”
‘Defeat not a friend’
Sexton was visibly moved at the playing of the national anthems. Saturday was the final time he would play France in a Six Nations match as he will retire after the World Cup.
He was full of praise for long-time halfback partner Conor Murray.
Murray, starting a Test match with Sexton for the 67th time, said he was fine to play despite his father being in hospital with serious injuries following a road accident on Tuesday.
“Unbelievable isn’t it,” said Sexton. “That’s the mark of the character he is.
“In my eyes he always has been a class operator. He has changed the game in many ways as regards for scrumhalves.
“He showed today exactly that and to be so calm was remarkable.”
Farrell’s opposite number Fabien Galthie said his side had not been clinical enough.
“When you come away with no points after expending a lot of energy you have to be very strong to stay in the contest, to keep believing, especially against them,” he said.
The former France captain added that seeing their national record run of 14 successive Test victories come to an end was tough.
“It’s almost two years since we have lost. It’s hard to take,” said Galthie.
“The series of wins are there, now it is necessary to learn how to take a defeat.
“Defeat is not a friend, but we will have to spend the day with her.”
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