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Sexton's moment, immense James Ryan and work-ons for Ireland

Joe Schmidt will be hyper-aware that Ireland have to make major improvements moving forward.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade de France

IRELAND OPENED THEIR Six Nations campaign with a 15-13 win against France in Paris.

Read our full match report here.

Sexton’s iconic moment

Ronan O’Gara had his many iconic moments over the years, but here was Johnny Sexton’s unforgettable strike.

Jonathan Sexton after the game Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Ireland out-half delivered in stunning fashion for Ireland at the death, with 82:38 on the clock when he struck the most delicious drop-goal from 45 metres out, the ball soaring straight and true towards the post to send Irish fans into rapture.

Rewind the clock to 80:28 and there is another brilliant example of Sexton’s class – a perfect kick-pass out to Keith Earls on the right to allow the Munster wing to bring real momentum into Ireland’s remarkable final attack.

Sexton featured prominently throughout the crucial passage, showing his mental steel and never accepting that Ireland had thrown away a game they had looked like winning for the vast majority of the contest.

The fact that Sexton had missed a 62nd-minute penalty to extend Ireland’s then-lead out to nine points could have been massively decisive, but he showed impressive character to bounce back and step up convincingly when his team needed him most.

James Ryan to the fore

This was an evening for players like Ryan – a second row so willing to roll his sleeves up and deal with the dirty work that was always going to be crucial in the rain at Stade de France.

The 21-year-old looked like the true successor to Paul O’Connell on what was his Six Nations debut, displaying the kind of maturity that has always marked him out as a future star.

Ryan’s tackle quality was superb – allowing Iain Henderson to win an important turnover penalty at one stage – while he carried doggedly throughout the game, as his most effective when he turned on his footwork before contact.

At lineout time, Ryan’s early claim at the back showed his quality in that area of the game, and he was a real leader for Ireland in the tight throughout. The Leinster man has a big, big future ahead of him.

Major work-ons

Let’s be clear – this was an escape for Ireland. Though they stole the victory in truly memorable fashion, this was a game they very nearly threw away to Teddy Thomas’ brilliant try.

Joe Schmidt before the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland have major work-ons ahead of their first home game against Italy next weekend and the circumstances of the win will not distract Joe Schmidt from that fact as this side look to build towards reclaiming the Six Nations crown for the first time since 2015.

Their work in contact was poor at important times in the game, with ball carriers often becoming isolated and displaying poor fight on the ground after the tackle – Schmidt is huge on this ‘bodyball’ aspect of the game.

The arriving players at the breakdown were often lacking impact for Ireland too, while their attacking game has strides to take in the coming weeks – though drier conditions would surely help that.

When Ireland found their shape, they looked sharp, while their set-piece strikes were generally positive, but there was a blunt edge at times inside the French 22. This victory will have positive psychological effects, but Ireland must get better.

Leavy’s impact

Schmidt spoke about the “new breed” of Irish forward in the build-up to this championship when talking about his youngsters’ ability to handle the ball, and Dan Leavy certainly belongs in that bracket.

The 23-year-old is built for this level of the game physically and mentally, and one felt he simply needed a break like the one he got today to show his true ability.

Josh van der Flier’s first-half departure to a head injury could have had a negative impact, but Leavy was simply superb as his replacement in the back row.

A lovely offload on one lineout attack showed Leavy’s skill level, but it was his ferocious carrying, ruck work and tackling that impressed most. He looks like a starter for Ireland going forward.

A win in Paris

It’s a rarity, that’s for sure. Sexton’s drop-goal ensured Ireland won in Paris for just the third time since the early 1970s and it’s certainly a victory Irish fans will savour.

Bundee Aki celebrates after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Though there seemed to be frustration from some fans throughout the preceding 82 minutes, the endgame makes this an Irish win that will go down in the history books.

Schmidt will be brutal in his review of this game and any players who are tempted to get ahead of themselves after the late win will be brought swiftly back down to earth. And yet, when the Ireland head coach has a quiet moment, he will take pleasure from guiding Ireland to victory here for the second time.

The Ireland boss tasted success in Paris to seal the 2014 Six Nations title, and he will hope that this victory is the start of Ireland’s next title success.

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