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Jonathan Liew discusses Joe McCarthy's efforts to boost morale in Ireland after their disappointing performance in the World Cup.
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Jonathan Liew discusses Joe McCarthy’s efforts to boost morale in Ireland after their disappointing performance in the World Cup.

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Many believed that Ireland would never be victorious in a final. However, during the 2024 Six Nations and the 2027 World Cup, on a windy evening in Marseille, Ireland proved them wrong by securing a bonus-point win against France. They not only defeated the favored team, but also set the foundation for the future of the Andy Farrell era and achieved peace in the Middle East.

Is it too overwhelming or too soon? But why not? Sports has always included both fantasizing and taking action, and for the numerous supporters from Ireland gathered in a small section of the Stade Vélodrome, this was a night to drown out the chaos, to stand up against hostility, and to put aside past struggles. It was a test and a display, undoubtedly, but also a sort of purging. In summary, it was an evening to mark down Joe McCarthy for the next two Lions teams, to jump back on the bandwagon of excitement, and to risk getting hurt once more.

France performed poorly, surprisingly so, especially in the first half which could be remembered as one of the worst during Fabien Galthié’s time. They were lacking their star player Antoine Dupont, dealing with multiple injuries, and had one less player on the field after Paul Willemse’s reckless ejection.

For all this, there was something vaguely thrilling in the way Ireland simply stopped them in their tracks, met violence with violence, greeted the rolling wave of noise that came their way with patience, craft and pure, unanswerable excellence.

“Considering the larger picture, it’s not unexpected that this match felt like a fresh start for both teams. It was the opening game of the Six Nations tournament and also served as a way to move on from the heartbreaking losses suffered by Ireland and France during the World Cup last year. While nothing can truly replace what was lost, there is solace in beginning a new chapter. Rugby is both the injury and the remedy.”

However, they appeared to approach it in slightly distinct manners. Prior to the game, Galthié had emphasized the importance of “fighting intensity” and how Ireland would push them to make 200 tackles and rucks without possession. This highlighted a preference for a more combative approach over flair. The decision to include Yoram Moefana as a winger and Paul Gabrillagues in the pack indicated that the French coach was willing to follow through on his words.

This may be a common reaction to trauma, where something you believed you had control over is suddenly taken away. You resort to physical actions because it is familiar and within your control. However, it could also be a result of the pain you are still experiencing, making the use of brute force seem like the most appropriate response.

Although France showed strength and determination, their performance lacked focus and consistency. They were aggressive in some areas and passive in others, deviating from their usual strengths. Their scrum was strong and their maul was impressive, but it ultimately didn’t matter when they allowed Tadhg Beirne to easily break through their defense.

Tadhg Beirne powers through the feeble France defence for one of Ireland’s five triesView image in fullscreen

Ireland received a timely advantage when Willemse was given a yellow card, as they were starting to gain momentum in the game. The subsequent red card, given for a repeated offense, highlighted France’s poor decision-making throughout the match. This was evident as Willemse was shown on camera sitting on the bench with a solemn expression, hunched over and withdrawn, which could be argued was the appropriate reaction from the start.

The Irish players in the second row were impressive throughout the entire game. With the intimidating and powerful McCarthy, Ireland now has the type of physically imposing player that they used to have to bring in from elsewhere, like avocados. However, as he caused chaos and controlled the game, while forming a strong partnership with Beirne, it gave a glimpse of a promising future. Perhaps he will even become an exceptional NFL player one day.

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Ireland presented a new response to a timeless inquiry about how a team bounces back from a sports-related setback. Do you begin anew, erase the past? Or do you continue with the methods that led you to the cusp of success?

You simultaneously persevere and progress. You discover fresh obstacles and uncharted territories to overcome.

It had been over five decades since Ireland emerged victorious over France in a match played on foreign soil by a significant margin. No previous Irish team had achieved a win at this particular stadium. Thirteen members of this Ireland team were also part of the Leinster squad that suffered a devastating loss in the Champions Cup final to La Rochelle a couple of years ago.

Despite their recent success in the Six Nations, Ireland continues to push boundaries and discover their potential. The next World Cup is still several years away, with the previous one barely four months behind. While hope can be dangerous, it also brings a sense of vitality.

Source: theguardian.com