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20 years on: Looking back at Brian O'Driscoll's hat-trick in Paris in 2000

The 21-year-old centre bagged three wonderful tries in Ireland’s historic 27-25 win.

BRIAN O’DRISCOLL’S PERFORMANCE in Paris in 2000 was about more than the tries but the hat-trick that the then 21-year-old scored is firmly planted in Irish rugby history.

O’Driscoll and Ireland’s exploits at Stade de France took place 20 years ago today.

The outside centre’s trio of tries in a 27-25 victory in Paris, Ireland’s first there in 28 years, underlined O’Driscoll’s rich promise and set him on course to become a global star.

brian-odriscoll-1932000 O'Driscoll scored a hat-trick in Paris. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

O’Driscoll’s first score arrived in the 23rd minute, with Warren Gatland’s Ireland 6-0 down after Gerald Merceron had fired over two French penalties.

It was O’Driscoll’s own break from a scrum that sparked the momentum that led onto the try, the Leinster man showing off his footwork and offloading skills… 

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… before some neat interplay from Kieron Dawson, Rob Henderson, Denis Hickie and Anthony Foley brought further gains for Ireland, then blindside flanker Simon Easterby picked and made more metres…

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As scrum-half Peter Stringer moved the ball back infield, Ronan O’Gara linked cleverly with Peter Clohessy, the out-half isolating Fabien Pelous, stepping to his inside and leaving the ball hanging for his loosehead prop to burst onto…

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Clohessy was stopped a metre short but a quick recycle allowed Stringer to find second row Malcolm O’Kelly coming around the corner at first receiver.

The move might have died there with other locks in that position – many would have just carried – but O’Kelly was a highly skillful player.

The Leinster man threw a delightful skip pass out in front of O’Driscoll with the French defence in tatters, inviting the centre to dart under the posts to seal a brilliant Ireland try.

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The scoring phase is all about the quality of O’Kelly’s pass after he draws in two French defenders when he swings around the corner. Number eight Thomas Lievremont [white below] and blindside Arnaud Costes [yellow] are both attracted up onto O’Kelly.

Keith Wood’s presence here is also important as he draws in opposite number Marc dal Maso [red below]…

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… leaving O’Driscoll free to finish under the posts from O’Kelly’s excellent skip pass, in turn allowing O’Gara to kick Ireland into a 7-6 lead.

The French responded superbly with O’Driscoll required to work back after a big David Bory break, before an overthrown Irish lineout led to les Bleus surging into their 22 and scoring through a quick-tap penalty from scrum-half Christophe Laussucq.

Another Merceron penalty in the opening minutes of the second half had the French out in front at 16-7 and they very nearly scored their second try – potentially a decisive one – in the 45th minute.

It took a sensational trackback tackle from left wing Denis Hickie, with O’Driscoll following up, to prevent dal Maso from scoring on a scything French counter-attack. A knock-on over the tryline allowed Gatland’s men to breath a sigh of relief.

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The brilliant Hickie intervention buoyed Ireland when another try could have broken them and though they conceded another Merceron penalty, they were the next to cross the whitewash with a superb second for O’Driscoll.

The try came from a clever scrum play designed by backs coach Eddie O’Sullivan, with O’Driscoll running a sharp support line off the outstanding Henderson.

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After Clohessy gets his loosehead side of the scrum up, number eight Foley kick-starts the play, popping the ball off the deck for Stringer to feed O’Gara.

O’Driscoll runs a dummy switch line [white below] as Henderson comes on a hard, flat line [yellow] to take a short pass from O’Gara.

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With O’Gara [red below] then looping out the back of Henderson and right wing Kevin Maggs having come off his wing to provide the back-door option behind Henderson, France centre Stéphane Glas [white] reads off his opposite number.

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That leaves Glas’ inside shoulder vulnerable and out-half Merceron [blue above] exposed in the defensive line.

Henderson wonderfully takes advantage by darting inside Glas and then slaloming back to his outside [yellow above], all the while shifting the ball into his left hand so he can fend Merceron with his right.

Merceron does tackle Henderson around the ankles but the Ireland centre has the presence of mind to look to midfield partner O’Driscoll, who has continued to work up on his inside, with Henderson’s beautiful offload going back across the face of French openside Abdelatif Benazzi, who is hoping to attack the breakdown.

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Henderson’s offload ensures there is no breakdown and O’Driscoll’s acceleration takes him clear of French fullback Emile Ntamack for the score.

Ireland are still trailing at 19-14 after O’Gara’s straightforward conversion and Merceron extends the French advantage in the 62nd minute with his sixth successful kick at goal.

David Humphreys, on for O’Gara at out-half, calmly slots an Irish penalty to draw them back to within five points but the tit-for-tat continues with Merceron nailing three more for les Bleus in the 68th minute.

Ireland need something special and O’Driscoll provides it with just over six minutes left.

The score is sparked by Hickie’s break on counter-attack…

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It’s clever play from replacement back row Andy Ward, who swiftly pops the ball off the ground to Hickie after fullback Girvan Dempsey has carried. 

Hickie’s pace allows him to break before looking back inside to Ward for the offload, with Ward then making a nice pre-contact pass inside to sub lock Paddy Johns.

The French bring Johns to ground but give up penalty advantage in the process. Stringer is tackled as he looks to spark the next phase and the ball bobbles loose, only for O’Driscoll to produce an unforgettable moment of skill, balance, pace, and poise.

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O’Driscoll’s attacking instincts are clear to see here as he instantly reacts to the ball going to ground by accelerating forward and sublimely scooping it up off the deck.

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It’s so skillful from O’Driscoll to stoop down low even as he accelerates, not even breaking stride as he dips to gather the ball with both hands before instantly righting himself and transferring the ball into his left to allow him to get up to sprinting speed.

Again, O’Driscoll bursts past Ntamack for his superb hat-trick try.

Humphreys converts the score but it’s easy to forget that Ireland are still 25-24 down at this point. The French only have five minutes to cling onto their lead for.

But some powerful carrying from Ireland’s props, Clohessy and John Hayes, cracks the French discipline.

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Clohessy bursts onto a pop pass from Stringer before tighthead Hayes intelligently picks and carries to continue the momentum.

Hayes’ surge draws the French into going off their feet and referee Paul Honiss signals the penalty advantage, which Ireland are unable to use.

Honiss brings play back to the penalty and Humphreys has the chance to finally send Ireland in front with less than three minutes remaining in Paris.

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With all the pressure on his shoulders, the Ulsterman nails his penalty from more than 40 metres out, sending Irish fans into disbelieving delight.

The game is still not finished just yet, however. Humphreys soon tries a long-range drop-goal but it fades right and then he attempts a second, only to scuff it underneath the posts this time.

The French look to attack from deep in their own half but Humphreys makes another decisive play as he strips the ball from Ntamack in a tackle on just inside Ireland’s half, allowing Stringer to kick it out of play and spark riotous celebrations.

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IRELAND: Girvan Dempsey; Kevin Maggs, Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Henderson, Denis Hickie; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Peter Clohessy, Keith Wood, John Hayes; Mick Galway, Malcolm O’Kelly; Simon Easterby, Kieron Dawson, Anthony Foley.

Replacements: Frankie Sheahan, Justin Fitzpatrick, Paddy Johns, Andy Ward, Guy Easterby, Davis Humphreys, Mike Mullins.

FRANCE: Emile N’Tamack; Philippe Bernat-Salles, Cedris Desbrosse, Stephane Glas, David Bory; Gerald Merceron, Christophe Laussucq; Christian Califano, Marc dal Maso, Franck Tournaire; Fabien Pelous, Olivier Brouzet; Arnaud Costes, Abdelatif Benazzi; Thomas Lievremont.

Replacements: Raphael Ibanez, Pieter Villiers, Franck Belot, Lionel Mallier, Aubin Hueber, Alain Penaud, David Venditti.

Referee: Paul Honiss. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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