Ireland head coach Andy Farrell believes missed opportunities were ultimately what cost his side in last night’s 35-27 Guinness Six Nations loss to a youthful France.
Heading into the contest (with England posting a 34-5 bonus point win over Italy), Ireland knew exactly what they had do in order to be crowned champions – claim a bonus point victory or win by six points (with at least one try) or seven points.
While 100-cap prop Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw and Jacob Stockdale all crossed for the visitors, France were ruthless in racking up four tries to secure second place in the final table.
Speaking after the match in Saint-Denis, Farrell said: “I think there were enough opportunities there for us to win two games. We certainly weren’t clinical enough with the opportunities that we had.
If you don’t take your chances in big games like this, then you come unstuck eventually. It’s an obvious thing to say, but we had enough entries into the French 22 and didn’t come away with the points.
“It’s as simple as that really. At half-time, the chat was about belief. It was a little bit off and obviously the score just after half-time wasn’t great.
“We killed our own momentum at times and then that sucked the fluidity of things. The errors that we made were across the board, it wasn’t just one area. I suppose being clinical in the last third of the pitch was the main point.”
Trailing 17-13 at the break despite producing an encouraging first half of rugby, Ireland fell further behind when prodigious out-half Romain Ntamack bagged a brilliant breakaway try.
Farrell still felt his charges had a realistic chance of success, until Virimi Vakatawa’s 70th-minute converted score put the result beyond doubt at 35-20.
“I honestly thought at half-time we were 80% in and didn’t quite 100% go at it fully and believe. That’s what I’m saying about having opportunities close to the line.
“Not quite getting there with our rucking, with our collision work. I thought it was okay at times, but you’ve got to make your own luck in big games like this against big guys like that.
“I thought we didn’t 100% go for it as far as the accuracy and the physicality, etc. I thought we could have come away with more points in that first half.
“At half-time you try and correct a few things, give a bit of belief and obviously they scored the try (in the 43rd minute). There were quite a few big moments within that game.
“At 28-20, we had a lineout on their line and again we came away with nothing. From set pieces a couple of times, we spilled a few balls. Missed touch twice, etc.
“There was an array of things, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, it saps you a little bit and you feed energy to the opposition.”
The decision of captain Jonathan Sexton to go for touch at the end of the first half, rather than go for the three points on offer from the tee, was the subject of much discussion after the game.
While a penalty would have reduced the deficit to a single point, there was the potential of reclaim the lead if the lineout maul had delivered in the way they had hoped.
Even though the move did not pay off for Ireland, Farrell saw it as more of an execution issue and not necessarily a chink in the decision-making process. He added:
The plan is pretty simple. It’s the feel and the flow of the game. You’re probably getting to the point just before half-time of whether we go for posts or whether we go to the corner.
“I back the players to feel what’s right. Feel the flow of the game. Everyone would judge the decision of what’s right and what’s wrong.
“But I more so try and go down the line of, once you make a decision, it’s how you execute that on the back of it. Those are the bits that I’ll be critical of.”