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Let the Straw Clutching Commence

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    Let the Straw Clutching Commence

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    @@@@SPAN =storyline>France don't have psychological edge: O'Sullivan@@@@/SPAN>
    @@@@SPAN =storydate>12/02/2007@@@@/SPAN>
    Eddie O'Sullivan claimed France's heart-stopping 20-17 victory over Ireland will have shaken their [img]smileys/lol.gif[/img]self-belief ahead of September's World Cup showdown in Paris.

    Toulouse winger Vincent Clerc crossed seven minutes into injury time in a dramatic finale to a mesmerising RBS 6 Nations encounter at Croke Park.

    France coach Bernard Laporte insisted the result had landed a telling psychological blow with the rivals next scheduled to meet in the group stages of the World Cup.

    But O'Sullivan countered Laporte's claim by maintaining the last-gasp nature of the triumph has only served to underline French fallibility.

    "I wasn't surprised that Bernard Laporte was open about his belief France have landed a psychological blow ahead of the World Cup," he said.

    "He did say last week that this was the game France had targeted in the Six Nations. But now he might be feeling a little more insecure than a week ago. If they'd come to Dublin and won well, then they would have had a psychological advantage going into the World Cup.

    "But the way they won the game, right at the end, will have sown seeds of doubt in Laporte's mind. A win is a win, but it was a hardly a result to convince him that France are a much better team than Ireland. I can't imagine that after yesterday his headset is France should not be afraid of Ireland – which is the attitude I think he wanted to develop.

    "He said it was a pivotal game and that if France won in Dublin they would win the Six Nations and score a psychological blow ahead of the World Cup. But when we meet France in the World Cup there will be a huge amount of pressure on them to deliver. And I know from our last two performances against France that if we get our game in order in Paris, they'll have a very difficult day at the office."

    O'Sullivan may be convinced Ireland's psychology remains undamaged, but France's ability to conjure victory from a seemingly lost cause stands them in good stead for the crucial group meeting on September 21.

    A glorious opening to life at Croke Park was there for the taking but Clerc's heartbreaking late try ensures a huge question mark remains over Ireland's ability to win big matches.

    They awoke this morning to headlines such as "Choke Park" and "Croker Choker" and the sense they had blown a magnificent opportunity to dent French confidence was palpable.

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    <NO></NO>@@@@SPAN id=rugby_story2>O'Sullivan refused to blame the defensive lapse that allowed Clerc to deliver the knockout blow – John Hayes, Neil Best and Denis Hickie could have produced the decisive tackle – instead choosing to highlight an unkind bounce of the ball at the restart that initiated the move.

    "Clerc's a world-class winger and he had a mismatch in the middle of the pitch. Our defence was scrambling and he scored," said O'Sul