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Player ratings: How Ireland fared in a late, late victory at the Stade de France

Phew…

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Rob Kearney: 5

Generally outstanding in the air – it’s a bird, it’s a plane, etc – and carried hard, but a poor drop while grounded put Ireland under pressure near the hour mark. Then culpable for Thomas’ try: should have either stayed put or chased his own clearance kick with more conviction, but instead did neither and didn’t come within an ass’s roar of sniffing out France’s counter having been caught upfield.

Keith Earls: 6

Mixed bag: showed flashes of his outrageous provincial form but was generally well-marshaled by Virimi Vakatawa. Silly if benign high tackle on Virimi Vakatawa with less than 15 minutes remaining provided France with some momentum at a crucial juncture. Poor knock-on on after Thomas’ try. Did superbly to gather Sexton’s last-gasp crossfield kick with aplomb and gain some desperately-needed yardage on landing.

Keith Earls with Virimi Vakatawa Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Robbie Henshaw: 5

Tackled viciously and worked hard on the ground as is his wont, but conceded a team-high three turnovers. Made just 25 yards – the lowest of the backs apart from Conor Murray.

Bundee Aki: 6

An understated but accomplished display on either side of the ball. Showed flashes of excitement in a game which – from Ireland’s perspective, at least – lacked it until the finish. Lack of communication with Kearney for Thomas’ try.

Jacob Stockdale: 5

Caught static and roasted on the inside by Thomas for France’s try. Will learn from it, of course. Wasn’t really unleashed in possession bar an early burst.

Johnny Sexton: Syntax error

Aside from kicking all of Ireland’s points, made a huge choke tackle on Arthur Iturria with his side under the cosh, forcing France to come in from the side and concede a penalty deep in Irish territory. Stopped a rampaging Vakatawa in his tracks with nine remaining. The cojones to attempt – and complete – a Leinster-esque crossfield kick to Keith Earls as Ireland chased the game with the clock red; the bottle – and leg-strength – to kick the game-winning drop goal from 378 yards after 40-odd phases and 80-plus wearying minutes. Phenomenal. (One poor miss from the tee, but this was an 8/10 display by the game-winner).

Johnny Sexton celebrates kicking the winning drop goal Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Conor Murray: 7

Just so streetwise. Case in point: was warned twice to use the ball from a scrum on 28 minutes but delayed an extra second, forcing referee Owens to award Ireland a penalty as France’s front row hit the deck. Constantly chirping at Owens – somehow without annoying the Welshman (at least until the very last play). A couple of kicks went astray, but nine tackles in a game where Ireland had most of the ball was second only to James Ryan. Conducted his forwards excellently at the death.

Cian Healy: 7

A solid if not particularly explosive outing with ball in hand – had to carry a couple from a standstill position. Applied serious pressure to the French scrum, though – particularly in the second half. Fine display before he was replaced by Jack McGrath with 20 minutes remaining.

Rory Best (c): 5

Despite overthrowing James Ryan in an early lineout, found his range and completed the next 13. Made just four carries, though, for zero yards – unsurprisingly a team low. Five tackles.

Tadhg Furlong: 6

Will be disappointed to have been turned over by his scrummaging adversary Jefferson Poirot yards from the French line early in the second half. Quiet in open play by his standards, but impressive again in a fascinating battle of scrums.

James Ryan: 7

Huge game. Set out his stall early with a tremendous tackle on a looming Teddy Thomas. Carried with gusto, though an excitable pop up to Murray from the base of a ruck on 25 minutes saw Ireland racing 50 yards backwards to endure a spurt of intense French pressure on their own line. It didn’t get to him: 15 carries, 10 tackles and monumental work at the breakdown ensured a stellar Six Nations debut overall.

James Ryan offloads to Conor Murray Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Iain Henderson: 6

Came into his own in the last 10 as Ireland’s forwards slogged their way into the French half. Made a couple of sizeable hits and one impressive turnover in the first half.

Peter O’Mahony: 6

The game lacked a ‘Big Pete’ moment – though he was unfortunate that an early lineout steal was made redundant due to an error in Irish numbers. There was a comical, Rodger Federer-like volleyed pass toward the left wing which sailed some five yards forward, but there was also some monstrous work on the floor.

Josh van der Flier: 6

Had started perhaps the most impressively of Ireland’s forwards before going off in the first half with a knee injury.

CJ Stander: 7

Uncharacteristically had the ball stripped in a tackle on 34 minutes which allowed France to boot downfield and earn the penalty which put them on the scoreboard. That only made him angry. Massive turnover on the hour mark after an excellent Leavy tackle. 25 carries was freakish – over 10 more than his nearest competitor. Unlike his similar performance versus Argentina in the autumn, however (his try that day notwithstanding), his runs were effective.

CJ Stander with Anthony Belleau Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Replacements:

Sean Cronin: 6

Didn’t get much of a chance to get motoring, but at least made only one less carry than Best in about an eighth of the time.

Jack McGrath: 6

Seamlessly slotted in for Healy for the final 20.

John Ryan: 6

An effective cameo. See McGrath above.

Devin Toner: 6

A reassuring presence on his introduction, however brief.

Dan Leavy: 7

Picked up where Van der Flier had left off, and then some. Carried dynamically and tackled maniacally throughout.

Stunning Johnny Sexton drop-goal steals Paris win for Schmidt’s Ireland

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