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Dublin: 11°C Monday 17 May 2021

'I'm sure we'll get a bit of stick for it in the review, for celebrating like footballers!'

Conor Murray says he knew Johnny Sexton’s drop goal was going over as soon as he hit it.

Murray Kinsella reports from Paris

SHEER UNBRIDLED JOY. That’s what we saw from Ireland’s players after Johnny Sexton’s late, late drop kick soared through the uprights to secure a 15-13 win for Joe Schmidt’s men in Paris.

Sexton, knowing the kick was good as soon as he connected, was already well on his way back into the Irish half, with several of his team-mates hounding after him, Bundee Aki leading the charge.

Ireland players celebrate at the final whistle Ireland celebrate their win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Fergus McFadden was swiftly onto the scene was Sexton was mobbed, while Dan Leavy appeared to very nearly injure himself in the mayhem.

In among the celebrations, it was worth noting that Keith Earls and Iain Henderson chased after Sexton’s drop goal, just in case it rebounded off a post and play continued. For most, though, it looked good as soon as it left Sexton’s boots and they lost the plot.

“When I turned around he was all the way down the other end of the field in the 22,” says Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray.

“He claims he was going down to look at the other screen but there was one right in front of him. I knew when he struck it, it looked like it had the legs.

“They are the moments you’ll remember forever, when you’re just ecstatic.

“I’m sure we’ll get a bit of stick for it in the review, for celebrating like footballers, but it was natural! They are the moments you really enjoy. It happened in slow motion, it was a surreal moment, but great.”

The celebrations were a mix of delight and pure relief, of course, given that Ireland had been heading for a disastrous opening to their Six Nations campaign after Teddy Thomas’ stunning try.

But Anthony Belleau’s penalty miss in the 78th minute gave Ireland one more opportunity and they took it in truly incredible fashion, regaining the restart and holding the ball for more than five minutes as they marched into drop-goal range.

Keith Earls and Conor Murray celebrate Keith Earls and Murray celebrate in Paris. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The manner in which Ireland secured this victory has potentially major psychological benefits, with Schmidt’s players surely now getting some sense that this is going to be their year.

With everything on the line in Paris, in wet conditions and regular time elapsed, they pulled through.

“It’s going to be a completely different Monday now,” says Murray. “Doubts do creep into your head and you’re trying to stay positive throughout all that.

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“It was so important for us to get a win here, and it means we can refocus on Italy on Monday now. If we were to lose it would change the complexion of our entire Six Nations, everyone knows that.”

Murray is, nonetheless, realistic about Ireland’s performance in Paris. The endgame will provide major confidence moving forward, but Schmidt’s players understand that other aspects of their performance were below par.

“It was a wet day, a wet ball, and it made for a really tough contest especially at the breakdown,” says Murray. “It was an unbelievable finish from Thomas, but we’re disappointed with the way we chased that kick.

“We were a little bit loose in a few areas and we’ll look to repair a lot of that over the next few days.

“But those last few minutes, all those phases, to grind it out like that, for Hendy [Iain Henderson] to claim the 22, then Keith [Earls] to take the crossfield kick, to keep it going through so many phases, to get a bit of go-forward, then for Johnny to pull the trigger and produce a bit of magic – they are the moments you want to play sport for, when you snatch a win like that.

“There’s a good feeling in the dressing room at the moment, so we’ll enjoy it and we know we’ve got a fair bit of work ahead of us.”

Conor Murray at a scrum Ireland have plenty of improving to do in the coming weeks. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Among the other positives for Ireland were the performances of 21-year-old Six Nations debutant James Ryan and 23-year-old Dan Leavy, who came off the bench for the injured Josh van der Flier in the first half.

Despite their lack of experience, the Leinster pair often led by example for Ireland and underlined that they have exceptional potential that is already delivering results.

“These young guys are playing such great rugby at the moment, it’s really important for them to come into the group and add something.

“They are confident young lads,” continues Murray. “James Ryan, all day he kept offering up for the carry and he was taking ball on for us in really tricky circumstances.

“And Dan came on and added an awful lot, especially in those phases leading up to the drop goal. Those guys will grow from this; winning in France isn’t easy.”

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Van der Flier to miss Italy clash as Schmidt hails Ireland’s bench impact

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Murray Kinsella

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