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'It's pretty hard to explain how you feel when you think the game has got away'

Joe Schmidt was relieved and thrilled after Johnny Sexton’s late, late drop goal.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade de France

JOE SCHMIDT TOOK to the stage for his post-match press conference in Paris with a brief smile on his face.

The Ireland head coach would go on to admit there was pure relief mixed in among his emotions after Johnny Sexton’s beautiful last-gasp drop goal secured a 15-13 win for Ireland in Paris, but there was delight too.

Robbie Henshaw, Fergus McFadden, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki celebrate with Johnny Sexton Johnny Sexton is mobbed by his team-mates. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Schmidt has now led his Irish teams to two victories away in Paris, with a sole defeat in 2016, although it looked for all money that the opportunity had slipped away this evening after Teddy Thomas’ stunning 74th-minute try sent France ahead.

“It’s pretty hard to explain how you feel when you think the game has got away and you’ve let it slip and suddenly you’ve grabbed it because of, I felt, an incredible team effort to work their way up the pitch, about 40 or 45 metres and then to add on, at the end of it, a 40-metre drop goal,” said Schmidt when asked how he had felt when Sexton sealed the win for Ireland.

“It was fairly inspirational, even the fact that so many people had to be involved. We had to drop kick the ball to start with and Iain Henderson got it back. We played a number of phases, a cross-kick for Keith Earls, who leapt three or four feet into the air to claim it.

“We felt we got very close to earning some reward when it was very, very slow ball. It was difficult to clear our ball a number of times but we didn’t appear to be going to get much of a chance there.

“Then, when he struck the drop goal, I was just willing it to have enough distance to get over because when he struck it, it looked like it might and when it did, I think the coaching staff all stood up as one and probably cheered with the other Irish supporters who were in the stadium.”

The fact that Ireland had to wait until deep into the 83rd minute of play to grab this crucial victory made it all the sweeter in the end, but the stark swing of emotions was difficult for Schmidt.

Only minutes earlier, with replacement France out-half Anthony Belleau standing over a penalty that could have extended their lead out to 16-12 and, therefore, required Ireland to score a try to win, Schmidt thought the game was gone.

“We felt it was one that got away if it managed to get away,” said Schmidt. “I felt we did a lot of things really well, we started the game really strongly right from the first phase of play.

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray celebrate after the game Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We launched at them and there was some good handling in the backline, Bundee Aki freed up Keith Earls on the edge with Jacob Stockdale linking up as well.

“It was a stop-start game, there were lots of penalties and lots of potential penalties that cause some very slow ball.

“If you try to break a French defence down with slow ball, even in those last phases of play there were rucks that were seven or eight seconds, you are really up against it.

“Physically getting off the line, you know how tough they are. I think people physically underestimate how tough it is to come here and win. Having metrics [like possession and territory] in your favour doesn’t necessarily give you the one metric you want at the end of the day, which is the 15-13 that we managed to scramble at the end.”

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Murray Kinsella

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