Ireland flankers Stephen Ferris and David Wallace were quick to pay tribute to their back row colleague, try-scoring number 8 Jamie Heaslip, in the aftermath of Saturday’s 30-21 RBS 6 Nations win over France.
Croke Park rose to its feet to acclaim Jamie Heaslip’s try, six minutes before half-time, and it was certainly a crucial score as Ireland were never headed thereafter.
Commenting on Heaslip’s score, blindside Stephen Ferris said: “Jamie took it really, really well. I’m really pleased for the guy. He’s maybe taken a bit of criticism up in Leinster but he proved all those critics wrong tonight.
“He’s playing some great rugby. I think the back row – me, Wally (David Wallace) and Jamie – worked well together again and it was great to be part of it.”
Openside Wallace was delighted with the win and especially with Ireland’s ability to take their scoring chances and rise to the occasion when France enjoyed their own purple patches.
“Wins like this one are few and far between so we have to savour it. It was a very hard fought game and that makes the win sweeter,” said the Munster powerhouse.
“We really had to push ourselves and take the chances – every time they rose, we rose as well.”
He also had a special word for Heaslip for the level of performance he put in.
“Jamie left nothing for the rest of us – if he wasn’t scoring his try he was poaching! It was a brilliant performance and I’m delighted for him.
“The back row is a very competitive area when you think that a guy like Denis Leamy was on the bench and neither Alan Quinlan or Shane Jennings could make the 22. Competition is getting stiffer, for sure.”
Heaslip, having played last year’s Championship, was used to the pace of Six Nations rugby but for first-timer Ferris, it was a whole new experience.
With Ireland mustering the win, it will be a day he can look back on with pride for years to come.
“It was my Six Nations debut and I really, really enjoyed it. It was such a fast-paced game and it’s great to step up to that level and get a win,” the Ulster ace said.
“Sitting beside Paul O’Connell in the dressing room and he was saying it was the first time he had beaten France. It’s great for my first Six Nations game to get a win. It’s brilliant.
“I don’t know if it’s relief but just in the changing room everyone’s on a good high and there’s a great buzz.”
Ferris acknowledged that the speed at which the first few phases of play were executed at took him slightly by surprise.
“The first five minutes, I wasn’t really expected it. You get up, make a tackle, as soon as you get back on your feet make another tackle and then get back on your feet and make another tackle.
“I settled though and got my second wind early enough and pulled through to 70 minutes very well. Denis (Leamy) came on and did very well then.
“It really is good stepping up to that level and I’m really enjoying it.”
Saturday’s game was packed full of open, running rugby with both sides intent on attacking and counter-attacking when the opportunity presented itself.
It made for an expansive and energy-sapping 80 minutes and Ferris said it was ‘great to play in’, even if he did not get his hands on the ball as much as he would have liked.
“I wasn’t expecting it (this open style of game) myself. Playing with Ulster, there’s been a lot of kicking and you’re working back and forth.
It was great to play in though. There was a great pace to the game and I’m sure the crowd loved watching it.
“It’s good to have it back because I think we were missing it there for a while with the clubs.”
The 23-year-old was not even born yet the last time Ireland won the Championship. Irish fans will dare to dream after a result like this and Ferris is mindful of how the squad need to push on next weekend and maintain this momentum.
“There’s a lot of pictures been taken in the changing room, you know. (Beating France) hasn’t been done in such a long time.
“We’ll have a small bit of time to enjoy it, we’ll have a nice meal and maybe a glass of red wine.
“But we’ve a big game next week against Italy and we need to keep this ball rolling. This Championship is wide open for us,” he added.