Ireland lost to France by a single point today in the Stade de France. 10-9 was the score and it probably scuppers our chances of winning the Six Nations for a record three times in a row, resulting in a flood of criticism from the commentariat, the supine armchairiat who’d be hard-pressed to know one end of an inflated elongated spheroid from the other. People who’d be pushed to describe what hard physical exercise feels like are now telling us that the backs let us down, the forwards let us down, we were too lateral, we didn’t do the set-pieces well, we weren’t physical enough, the scrum didn’t work, the lineout was shaky and a whole lot of other guff besides.
Listen. We went to Paris and we were beaten by a single point in a hard-fought game. One lonely point. We lost three or four vital players due to injury and we fought the French every inch of the way on their own home turf with la Marseillaise resounding through the stadium. And we only lost by a single point.
Do you remember the old days, when Ireland supporters had far more modest expectations?
I remember when we hoped for a good first-half display from the Irish, knowing that in the second half we’d be trounced. It wasn’t easy to watch and the certainty of defeat didn’t begin to dissipate until sixteen years ago when a young man called Brian O’Driscoll burst through the French defence not once, not twice but three times to clinch victory in Paris. And it’s true that we suffered massive defeats at the hands of other nations in the following years, but we also celebrated massive victories over them.
The days of the wooden spoon are long over. What people are mourning today is not yet another humiliating defeat consigning us to the bottom of the pile as usual, but the fact that we lost the chance to win three Six Nations in a row. If that was an easy goal, it wouldn’t be worth chasing. No team has ever achieved it, so let’s get a grip and realise that we’re facing the big boys on equal terms and they know it.
Let’s remind ourselves that things weren’t always so.