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    Mondays Press.......


    <h1>
    Wallace's work ethic shows France the way to cast off conservative game plan










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    </h1>


    <h2>
    England are wilting and Ireland lead the British Isles by miles but Les
    Bleus have what it takes to go global, writes Chris Hewett </h2>




    <h4>
    Published:19 March 2007
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    The Six Nations is over and England are back in the top half of the
    table for the first time in three years. Should they be cracking open
    the bubbly? Hardly. Midway through his first tournament as head coach,
    Brian Ashton placed the reigning world champions in the second division
    of world rugby. He was right then, and he's still right now.







    The events of the last fortnight - a decent win over a poor French
    team, a comprehensive defeat by an emotionally charged Welsh one -
    leave England a long way off the pace in terms of their defence of the
    Webb Ellis Trophy, which begins, lest we forget, in a little over five
    months. Before then, they have two games with the Springboks on the
    high veld (ouch!) and three warm-up matches that may or may not amount
    to something, depending on the approach of their opponents. There is a
    lot to be done, and precious little time.


    Are we saying there was no progress over the course of the
    Championship? Was it really that depressing? Not depressing, exactly.
    After Croke Park, the lowest of low points, Ashton decided England
    would play a different way from there on in. They did. Mike Catt, his
    footballing brain in far better condition than his elderly hamstrings,
    was recalled to translate Ashton's bold thinking into deeds of
    derring-do; Toby Flood and Shane Geraghty were given licence to play;
    David Strettle was picked a second and third time after materialising
    in Dublin from the back end of beyond; Mark Cueto was brought back to
    add some oomph to the vital role of full-back. All these were positive
    developments.


    So what's the beef? After all, pre-tournament expectation was pretty low.


    Try as they might, England still cannot get their basics in shape.
    When it comes to first principles - aggressive scrum, efficient
    line-out, powerful driving maul, ruthless rucking game - they are at
    their lowest ebb for many a long year. Ever heard a jazz band without a
    decent bassist? There is no substructure, no solidity, no iron.
    England's rugby is the sporting equivalent. They can bully the weak -
    the Scots, for instance - but that's about it, unless the French turn
    up in one of their weird moods. In 2003, the first-choice pack was
    Trevor Woodman, Steve Thompson, Phil Vickery, Martin Johnson, Ben Kay,
    Richard Hill, Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio. Only Vickery is left,
    and he has lost 50 per cent of himself. The current unit does not begin
    to compare.


    That's that, then.


    Not quite. There is a handful of forwards who might make a
    difference - none of them a Johnson or a Hill, unles

    #2
    <h1>
    Andy Robinson: O'Driscoll's men learn a lesson... one lapse can be lethal










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    <h4>
    Published:19 March 2007
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    Ireland will kick themselves for ever and a day. A single lapse of
    concentration at the end of their match with France cost them the Six
    Nations title. Even more painfully, it cost them the Grand Slam the
    country has craved since 1948. It is the great lesson of rugby at the
    top level: one bad minute in 80 can undo an awful lot of good work.







    That said, the Irish are in a sound position ahead of the World Cup in
    France later this year, even though they are in the least sympathetic
    of the four groups. They have an air of stability about them, they
    understand the way they are attempting to play, and they have
    high-class players in important positions.


    My fear for them is injuries to the wrong men at the wrong moments.
    If they lose Brian O'Driscoll - and he broke down again in Rome on
    Saturday - a good deal of their back-line confidence goes with him. The
    same applies to the pack when Paul O'Connell, their influential lock,
    isn't there. If Ireland are to make the most of themselves over the
    coming months, they must learn to play without these two.


    England? The tournament threw up more questions than answers, I
    feel. There were some obvious positives with some terrific youngsters
    catching the eye, and we showed in beating France that, on a given day
    in a one-off situation, no team can consider themselves safe against
    us. Our problem is stringing together two big performances - an issue
    when I was coaching the team and an issue still.


    There were some tired bodies in Cardiff on Saturday, thanks to the
    six-day turnaround from the French game. But even with that taken into
    consideration, we're struggling to produce displays week on week.


    Wales seem to have a base on which to build, even though the first
    four rounds of the tournament were a trial for them. With the exception
    of their game in Scotland, which was a shocker, they showed they were
    able to dominate opponents.


    Their difficulty, at least until they played England, was one of
    finishing, of turning periods of pressure into points. I do believe,
    however, that the England game illuminated another area of concern:
    defence. England were being badly outplayed, yet they scored 18 points
    in a very short space of time. Even though the Welsh will have a
    completely unjustifiable leg-up come the World Cup - a home game
    against Australia, which goes against everything the tournament should
    be about - they will not be able to afford such generosity.


    The French were ... well, French. There is a game in every
    tournament where they fail to turn up - the England match at Twickenham
    this time - and while they have the ability to go a long way this
    autumn, there is also pl

    Comment


      #3
      <h1>Schedule hindered Irish, claims O'Sullivan</h1>
      @@@@SPAN ="storyby">By Mick Cleary@@@@/SPAN>
      <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN ="d">Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">2:06am GMT@@@@/SPAN>19/03/2007@@@@/SPAN></div>
      Have your say
      Read comments

      <table summary="" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2" width="100%"><t><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td ="mediumtxt" colspan="1"> In Pics: Six Nations action | Telegraph TV </td></tr></t></table>The Six Nations coaches headed their respective ways on Saturday evening,
      celebrating, cursing and fretting in equal measure, aware that while
      their own domestic squabble may have heightened pulse rates in Europe,
      it did not cause any consternation down in New Zealand.<table align="right" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" ="0" width="207"><t><tr><td rowspan="2" width="8"></td><td width="199"><center></center></td></tr><tr><td ="capti&#111;n"><center>Winning habit: France's Raphael Ibanez and Bernard Laporte</center></td></tr></t></table>An
      absorbing RBS Six Nations Championship left the confidence levels of
      the All Blacks unaffected. A stirring tournament, but unshaken
      favourites for the World Cup.As the England head
      coach, Brian Ashton, admitted that he was still some way from settling
      on his squad for the tournament which begins in France in September,
      his Irish counterpart, Eddie O'Sullivan, was bemoaning the 'Super
      Saturday' schedule which enabled France to nip in at the death and deny
      Ireland their first championship title in 22 years.France
      No 8 Elvis Vermeulen touched down in stoppage time in Paris to boost
      his side's points difference in their 46-19 victory over Scotland and
      so pip Ireland, who had earlier blitzed Italy 51-24 in Rome, by just
      four points. Ireland, though, had allowed Italy full-back Roland de
      Marigny to score at the death."If we'd known what
      was really needed then we could have made the decision to shut the
      door," O'Sullivan said. "France did have an advantage. It was very
      clear for them exactly how many points they needed. We'd liked to have
      known."<!-MPU BLOCKED BY PAGE->The drama
      continued in different vein in Cardiff. England were technically still
      in the championship running, or they were until Wales fly-half James
      Hook charged down his opposite number, Toby Flood, within two minutes
      of the start to score. That athletic intervention heralded a
      performance of quite sumptuous proportions from Hoo

      Comment


        #4

        <h1> Ireland threw the title away </h1>
        @@@@SPAN>By Brian Moore@@@@/SPAN>
        <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN>Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">2:00am GMT@@@@/SPAN>19/03/2007@@@@/SPAN></div><t></t>


        It
        is the way of things with broadcast schedules. No one thinks staggered
        kick-offs are ideal, but they only become an issue when you have the
        weekend we have just had, with three teams all capable of winning the
        Six Nations Championship on the final weekend.<t></t><table align="right" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="207"><t><tr><td rowspan="2" width="8"></td><td width="199"><center></center></td></tr><tr><td><center>Eddie O'Sullivan: was wrong to blame staggered kick-offs</center></td></tr></t></table>

        However, though not ideal, to use this as a reason as to why you did not take the title,
        as did the Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan, is risible. I simply do not
        accept the logic in his claims that Ireland were severely disadvantaged
        because they did not know how many points they needed in their win over
        Italy to elude the chasing French.

        It is quite
        simple, Eddie... the answer is as many as you can get, and this
        certainly does not include letting in soft tries in the last minute.

        Sorry,
        but the fact that neither the championship nor the Grand Slam rests
        with the Irish is no one's fault but their own. A superb display of
        attacking rugby in the second half in Rome cannot hide the initial
        difficulties caused by the Italians and there is that small point of
        the last-minute concession of a try. Two moments - this and the failure
        to claim the crucial restart when winning against the French -took
        everything away from the Irish, but what else will they face in the
        knock-out stages of the World Cup when, as one of only two
        northern-hemisphere teams who can aim to win it, they will similarly
        pay for profligacy? A team with their potential should not add their
        name to the ignominious, but illogically cherished, list of plucky
        losers.

        In any event, claims that the French and
        those who came afterwards had an advantage is supposition. You could as
        easily claim that knowing you need a large win, as did the French,
        could cause you to play with unwise openness. How many times have you
        heard the phrase: "We started to chase the scoreboard?"

        O'Sullivan
        would have evoked more sympathy, marginally, had he focused on the
        decision of the television match official to award the final Italian
        try, but ultimately the question would be the same - why were they
        allowed into that position in the first place? His assessment of the
        Irish season was: "We've won four out of five matches, played some
        great rugby and scored some great tries. We have to kick on from here."
        This should read: "Though we won four out of five matches, we actually
        played great rugby for a cumulative total of about two games and two
        poor mistakes have cost us everything. We must overcome this legacy of
        failure."

        To the Italians, I offer my
        congratulations on a season that achieved all that was realistic and
        ask them to forget the critics of their style of play.

        France
        chanced their arm against the wooden spoon winners, Scotland, and came
        top, but they did not convince throughout the tournament and until
        Bernard Laporte ends his rotation policy they cannot hope to challenge
        the All Blacks. The fly-half berth remains unfilled and without crucial
        direction here all will come to nought.

        I asked
        Olivier Magne before the England game why it was that the French
        sometimes did not turn up. His all too prescient answe

        Comment


          #5
          @@@@SPAN id="news_c&#111;ntent"><h2>O'Sullivan: Try verdict was 'excruciating'</h2>@@@@SPAN ="storytime">19/03/2007@@@@/SPAN>

          @@@@SPAN ="story">Ireland
          coach Eddie O'Sullivan described the wait for confirmation of France's
          decisive try in a dramatic final day of the RBS 6 Nations as
          "excruciating".

          Television match official Simon McDowell, an
          Irishman, took several minutes before giving his verdict on Elvis
          Vermeulen's late try as Les Bleus retained the title with a 46-19
          triumph over Scotland.

          A sparkling 51-24 victory against Italy
          appeared to have put Ireland in the driving seat but France responded
          magnificently to edge the Triple Crown holders on points difference.

          He
          said: "I watched the France game in my room. I got back to the hotel in
          time and got changed watching the game. I felt very helpless like
          everybody else.

          "I thought Scotland had done us a favour. The
          wait to see if the try had been given was excruciating. The call could
          have gone either way but went against Scotland and us too. I didn't
          know which way the call was going to go.

          "Everyone was on the edge of their seat. The TMO is there to make a tough call and if he thought it was a try then it was a try.

          "Some
          days you get those decisions and some days you don't so I don't have
          any gripe with the decision. They have to call what they see and what
          they believe is right. It was a tough call."

          Ireland ran in
          eight tries against the outclassed Azzurri with Girvan Dempsey and
          Denis Hickie scoring a brace each while Simon Easterby, Gordon D'Arcy,
          Shane Horgan and Ronan O'Gara also crossed.

          O'Sullivan was
          delighted with the rout at the Stadio Flaminio and felt his side had
          done everything possible to wrestle the title from France's grasp.

          He
          said: "We went into the game and did the best we could in the
          circumstances. If you'd told me before the game we'd score over 50
          points and produce eight tries I'd say fair enough, that's a good
          innings so let the dice roll. The dice had been rolled but it didn't
          fall our way."

          Ireland would have ended their 22-year wait for
          the title had they not conceded a try to Roland de Marigny in the 82nd
          minute, with Andrea Scanavacca slotting the conversion.

          The score reduced France's target in Paris from 31 points to 24 – Bernard Laporte's side eventually overcame Scotland by 27.

          Ireland
          had ample opportunity to thump the ball out into touch but went for a
          ninth try, only to concede possession and pay the ultimate price.

          O'Sullivan
          said: "I always felt the more points we had in the bag the better. You
          have to remember the team on the field don't know what points they need.

          "They
          had to keep on playing. You can't put up the barricades and stop
          playing. We scored some great tries because of great decision making.

          "Retrospect is a great thing but you can't say to the guys stop playing out there, we've got enough done.

          "France had the advantage because they knew what they had to do. To be fair to them they went and did it."@@@@/SPAN>
          @@@@/SPAN>

          Comment


            #6
            @@@@SPAN id="news_c&#111;ntent"><h2>Six Nations heartbreak will make us stronger - Hickie</h2>@@@@SPAN ="storytime">18/03/2007@@@@/SPAN>

            @@@@SPAN ="story">Ireland
            may mourn the cruel demise of their RBS 6 Nations title dream for some
            time to come but Denis Hickie is adamant the experience will prove
            invaluable at the World Cup.

            A thumping 51-24 victory over Italy
            put Ireland in pole position to snatch the championship from France's
            grasp but the dramatic events that unfolded in Paris left them shaking
            their heads in disbelief.

            Needing 24 points to win, Elvis
            Vermeulen was awarded a last-gasp try by Irish television match
            official Simon McDowell that saw Les Bleus retain their crown with a
            46-19 triumph over Scotland.

            The result brought St Patrick's Day
            celebrations to a sobering end but Hickie, who was in magnificent form
            against Italy, insists Ireland will draw strength from their Six
            Nations misery.

            "England, who lost out on several Grand Slams
            before winning one, are a good example of how you can come back from
            disappointment a lot stronger," he said.

            "Even closer to home, you look at the defeats and near misses Munster had before they won it.

            "Maybe
            the harsh lessons and heartbreak that we endured in this Six Nations
            will stand us in good stead, not just in next year's championship but
            more importantly at the World Cup.

            "We'll be able to draw on
            these disappointments and use them to spur us on. This could turn out
            to be a very valuable championship, despite the pain."

            Hickie
            led the charge as Ireland ran in eight tries at the Stadio Flaminio,
            overcoming an impressive start from the Azzurri to seize control.

            The
            Leinster winger finished with two, as did Girvan Dempsey, while Simon
            Easterby, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan and Ronan O'Gara also crossed in
            a ruthless display of finishing.

            But they also conceded a
            crucial late try to Roland de Marigny – Andrea Scanavacca converted –
            that ultimately cost them the championship as it reduced France's
            target in Paris from 31 points to 24.

            After dispatching Italy, Ireland raced back to the team hotel to catch the end of the match at the Stade de France.

            Many
            of the squad gathered next to the bar to watch the drama unfold and an
            enormous groan rang out when Vermeulen's try was confirmed by McDowell
            with a late signal failure on the television further heightening the
            tension.

            Skipper Brian O'Driscoll, supported by crutches after
            suffering a hamstring tear against Italy, looked stunned at the outcome
            and shook his head before hobbling off.

            "I didn't watch the end of the France match. I came in and there were a lot of people at the bar," said Hickie.

            "There
            was nothing I could do watching it so I had a swim and went up to the
            room. Shane Horgan came in and told me we didn't win the title.

            "It was a bizarre day because it's tough to win any Six Nations match so to go to Rome and win by playing so well was pleasing.

            "I
            thought we were very good collectively. It didn't fall for us in the
            end but we've probably only got ourselves to blame for that.

            "We
            wanted to win the Grand Slam and then the championship but a lot of the
            guys have been saying you can't depend on other people to do the work
            for you.

            "We had our chances and needed to look after own destiny."

            For
            the second successive year Ireland finished second on points difference
            and they have now ended the Six Nations as runners-up for five of the
            last seven championships.

            But Hickie insists they will take
            consolation from the knowledge that this season they could not have
            given any more in their pursuit of the title.

            "It's tough coming second. No one wants to be second – it's the worst place to be," he said.

            "We've had a good championship on a number of different levels. We set our stall out that we wanted to win the Grand Slam.<

            Comment


              #7
              <h2 ="uppercase clear">Ireland coach re-lives desperate moments</h2>

              <h3>Monday 19th March 2007</h3>
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              Ireland
              coach Eddie O'Sullivan described the wait for confirmation of France's
              decisive try in a dramatic final day of the Six Nations as
              "excruciating".




              Television match official Simon McDowell, an Irishman, took nearly
              two minutes before giving his verdict on Elvis Vermeulen's late try as Les Bleus retained the title with a 46-19 triumph over Scotland.



              A sparkling 51-24 victory against Italy appeared to have put
              Ireland in the driving seat but France responded magnificently to edge
              the Triple Crown holders on points difference.



              "I watched the France game in my room," said O'Sullivan.



              "I got back to the hotel in time and got changed watching the game. I felt very helpless like everybody else.



              "I thought Scotland had done us a favour. The wait to see if the try had been given was excruciating.



              "The call could have gone either way but went against Scotland and us too. I didn't know which way the call was going to go.



              "Everyone was on the edge of their seat. The TMO is there to make a tough call and if he thought it was a try then it was a try.



              "Some days you get those decisions and some days you don't so I don't have any gripe with the decision.



              "They have to call what they see and what they believe is right. It was a tough call."



              Ireland ran in eight tries against the outclassed Azzurri with
              Girvan Dempsey and Denis Hickie scoring a brace each while Simon
              Easterby, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan and Ronan O'Gara also crossed.



              But as well as France's last-gasp heroics, Ireland were also undone
              by the concession of a last-minute try to Italy as Ireland flung the
              ball wide in a desperate for extra points themselves.



              In spite of that, O'Sullivan was delighted with the rout at the
              Stadio Flaminio and felt his side had done everything possible to
              wrestle the title from France's grasp.



              He said: "We went into the game and did the best we could in the circumstances.



              "If you'd told me before the game we'd score over 50 points and
              produce eight tries I'd say fair enough, that's a good innings so let
              the dice roll.



              "The dice had been rolled but it didn't fall our way."



              "I always felt the more points we had in the bag the better. You
              have to remember the team on the field don't know what points they
              need.



              "They had to keep on playing. You can't put up the barricades and
              stop playing. We scored some great tries because of great decision
              making.



              "Retrospect is a great thing but you can't say to the guys stop playing out there, we've got enough done.



              "France had the advantage because they knew what they had to do. To be fair to them they went and did it." @@@@/SPAN>

              Comment


                #8
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                Geordan Murphy's column
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                We were back in the team hotel to catch the last 10 minutes of the
                France v Scotland game and it did not make enjoyable viewing.









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                I had a feeling our margin of victory over Italy might not be enough, but you just did not know.







                France had the advantage of playing after us so they knew what they had
                to do. We did not have that luxury but that is the way rugby is and
                maybe in other years the fixtures will fall more kindly.

                You could not have scripted a more dramatic finish to
                the Six Nations as far as the destination of the championship was
                concerned.

                All the televisions in our hotel cut out when France
                went for that final try. They were off for about 30 seconds, and when
                the picture was restored the decision had gone to the television match
                official.






                It did not look like a try, but I did not have as good a view or the angles which the TMO had.









                </div>







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                Anyway, France won the championship and we were left with a sense of anti-climax.







                To win, and win so well, in Rome was a superb achievement. I thought
                the lads were magnificent, so to end up feeling disappointed was quite
                unusual.

                There are two ways of reacting to this. You could be
                negative and mull over what might have been, or you take the positives
                which is what the Irish players will be looking to do.






                The way Irish rugby is going at the minute, we are expected to play well and win in every game.







                Of course, we are disappointed to have been pipped by France, but we
                played some good rugby in the championship and we can go on from here.






                You cannot say the Italian try in stoppage-time is what cost Ireland the championship.











                I felt it was good the guys wanted to chase more points. It would have been easy not to.











                If the game had been tight they probably would have kicked for touch to make sure of the victory.











                But they were going for more scores and th

                Comment


                  #9
                  <h3>Six Nations - the final verdict</h3>

                  <ul ="entryextras"><li ="comments">
                  Comments (72)[/list]


                  <ul ="entrydetails"><li ="author">Rob Hodgetts - BBC Sport journalist<li ="date">18 Mar 07, 10:31 AM[/list]







                  London -
                  The 2007 Six Nations ended in controversial, joyous, heartbreaking or
                  infuriating fashion depending on the colour of your shirt.



                  But there's no doubt it's been a cracker - maybe not for the actual
                  quality of rugby but for the drama and suspense right up until the
                  final match.



                  France, Ireland and England were all tied at the top of the table
                  going into Saturday's finale, meaning every point scored, for or
                  against, would be crucial in deciding the eventual winners.





                  Ireland were up first and ran in eight tries against
                  Italy but they lost their focus and let in the Azzurri for an
                  injury-time score to cut the final margin to 27 points.



                  This left France needing to beat Scotland by a clear 24 points in
                  Paris and Les Bleus were seemingly home and dry until prop Euan
                  Murray's late try for the Scots appeared to have swung the title
                  Ireland's way. But in a pulsating finish, Elvis Vermeulen was deemed
                  (by an Irish video official) to have scored with the very last act of
                  the match to give France a 46-19 win and one hand on the Six Nations
                  crown.



                  England still had an outside chance of lifting the title but needed
                  to win by 57 points in Cardiff. But Brian Ashton's men were outgunned
                  27-18 in Wales and France accepted the trophy in their dinner jackets
                  at the Stade de France.



                  So what's the end-of-term report for the six northern hemisphere teams as the World Cup looms larger on the horizon?



                  FRANCE

                  Positives: Proved that they could grind out a win when
                  it mattered, as seen with the last-gasp effort against Ireland and also
                  the title-clinching try in Paris. Winning the crown will have instilled
                  a winning mentality and confidence to the side and fostered more public
                  support for the World Cup bid on home soil later this year. David
                  Skrela has cemented his place as first-choice fly-half and Pierre
                  Mignoni looks set to partner him at scrum-half.



                  Negatives: France, and how many times have we said
                  this in the past, still have a tendency to go missing for large periods
                  of time, such as the entire England match. They can't afford these sort
                  of slip-ups in the World Cup. Coach Bernard Laporte was hoping to blood
                  his entire 40-man squad but was unable through injury and is left with
                  a few questions left unresolved.





                  IRELAND:

                  Positives: Front row didn't buckle like many thought
                  they would at start of the tournament and in open-side David Wallace
                  they have one of world's most unsung players. The backs bristle with
                  menace and dash, and when their dander is up the attacks can come from
                  anywhere. Brian O'Driscoll is the talisman but Gordon D'Arcy is an
                  equal in the centre and on their day the back three of Denis Hickie,
                  Shane Horgan and Girvan Dempsey can carve defences wide open.



                  Negatives: Lack the composure and ultimately
                  professionalism to close out matches they should have won. Captain
                  O'Driscoll was off the pitch injured when they capitulated to a late
                  French try in Dublin, and was also off when they allowed Italy to score
                  a consolation in Rome, shaving crucial points off their winning margin.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    <div id="c&#111;ntent_wrapper">
                    <div id="c&#111;ntent">
                    @@@@SPAN id="news_c&#111;ntent"><h2>Wrestling glory and frustration</h2>@@@@SPAN ="storytime">19/03/2007@@@@/SPAN>

                    @@@@SPAN ="story">By Donal Lenihan
                    WHAT
                    an incredible afternoon of rugby. On Saturday morning a margin of four
                    points separated Ireland and France at the top of the championship
                    table.

                    At the end of two enthralling contests, despite a combined total of 19 tries, that margin remained exactly the same.


                    Twenty-seven point victories for both France and Ireland insured the
                    Six Nations trophy stayed in Paris for a second successive year.

                    From an Irish perspective this year's championship can be summarised in two words "if only".


                    If only Ireland had won the last restart of the game against France in
                    Croke Park; if only Italy hadn't scored at the death in Rome; if only
                    television match official Simon McDowell didn't award the last gasp try
                    by France against Scotland last Saturday.

                    Rarely have I seen
                    such a deflated Irish support as that which retreated from Rome on
                    Saturday evening on the back of such a spectacular Irish performance.


                    Never before has an Irish team defeated any international opposition by
                    8 tries to 2 and found itself left in limbo. The try at the death by
                    Roland De Marigny from a position where Ireland refused a kickable
                    penalty was the most frustrating of the day. In your heart you just
                    knew it would be costly.

                    Fast-forward two hours when Scotland
                    prop Euan Murray scored with four minutes remaining and it looked as if
                    our Celtic cousins had gotten us out of jail. A winning margin of 20
                    points for the French would not be enough. Alas, it was a false hope
                    and the controversial injury time try by Olivier Milloud meant that
                    Ireland finish as the bridesmaids again this year.

                    In
                    analysing last Saturday's game one must first give due credit to the
                    Italians. Despite being forced to start without five first choice
                    players in props Andrea Lo Cicero and Martin Castrogiovanni, back row
                    dynamo Mauro Bergamasco and influential three quarters Gonzalo Canale
                    and Andrea Masi, they remained competitive.

                    The question
                    before kick-off, particularly in the light of the missing players, was
                    did the Italians feel they had achieved enough from this year's
                    tournament? After 60 minutes one might have said yes as Ireland led by
                    34 points with the Italians on their knees.

                    At that stage
                    their defence was in tatters and Ireland were scoring spectacular tries
                    at will. Under those circumstances, to outscore Ireland by 12 points to
                    5 in the last 20 minutes was an amazing achievement.

                    The key
                    moment for Ireland was the try scored by Gordan D'Arcy on the stroke of
                    half time despite the fact that the movement contained two forward
                    passes. Psychologically extending the lead from one point to eight at
                    the break was massive. The fact that Ireland's tormentor in chief in
                    the opening period Ramiro Pez, injured his shoulder when defending that
                    move also proved decisive. His second half replacement Andrea
                    Scanavacca lacked the composure and authority of the figure he
                    replaced.

                    That opening half produced one hell of a dogfight.
                    As anticipated, Italy targeted the Irish set piece and created all
                    sorts of difficulties. The Irish lineout was unsure from the moment
                    they lost the opening throw and on too many occasions the delivery was
                    so laboured that Peter Stringer was placed under huge pressure.


                    The most worrying aspect of the opening half was the pressure imposed
                    on the Irish scrum. On an excellent day for running rugby, this Irish
                    back line was capable of scoring from first phase — D'Arcy's try being
                    the perfect example. However time and again Denis Leamy was forced to
                    pick on the retreat.

                    When the going was toughest early on two
                    Irish men stood head and shoulders over the rest. In Shane Horgan and
                    David Wa

                    Comment


                      #11
                      @@@@SPAN id="news_c&#111;ntent"><h2>Players are 'a bit down in the mouth', admits O'Sullivan</h2>@@@@SPAN ="storytime">19/03/2007@@@@/SPAN>

                      @@@@SPAN ="story">Italy 24 Ireland 51
                      By Charlie Mulqueen
                      IRELAND
                      coach Eddie O'Sullivan admitted on Saturday night that he and his
                      players were "a bit down in the mouth" at finishing runners-up to
                      France for the second successive year in the RBS Six Nations
                      Championship in spite of racking up 51 points against Italy at the
                      Stadio Flaminio.

                      In truth, though, they should not have been
                      despondent. As the coach commented: "The boys gave everything in the
                      tank and put up some great performances and scored some great tries."

                      However,
                      missing out on a championship on a three point difference is a
                      heart-breaker, especially when the French were almost certainly awarded
                      a try in Paris that wasn't.

                      These things, though, tend to even
                      themselves out. In Rome, South African referee Jonathan Kaplan failed
                      to spot a pretty obvious forward scoring pass from Denis Hickie to
                      Gordon D'Arcy before the latter went over for a try that sent Ireland
                      in at half-time leading 20 points to 12. Up to then, the Azzurri were
                      well in the game and asking serious questions of Ireland at the set
                      pieces.

                      Italy don't possess much in the way of reserves so
                      when Mauro Bergamasco's replacement, Mauricio Zaffiri, hobbled off
                      after only a couple of minutes, they were badly stretched. They lost
                      out-half Ramiro Pez, who had a superb opening forty minutes, to another
                      injury at half time. It told in the second half when the Irish backs
                      cut loose big time and brought their total of tries to eight.

                      Even
                      that wasn't enough to land the title and you must compliment the
                      Italians for snatching two late tries which eventually cost Ireland the
                      championship. The first was touched down by Marco Bartolami, a majestic
                      second-row forward who demonstrated rare footballing instincts in
                      plucking a high kick out of the air and diving past Hickie for a score
                      reminiscent of that manufactured by Ronan O'Gara and finished off by
                      Shane Horgan against England.

                      To their immense credit, Ireland
                      hit back with Hickie's second try to move 51-17 ahead. And it was then
                      that many believed Ireland should have battened down the hatches. So
                      Denis Leamy went for broke. He took a quick tap, the move broke down
                      and instead it was the Italian full-back Roland de Marigny who snatched
                      a try and to rub further salt in Irish wounds, substitute out-half
                      Andrea Scanavacca converted from near the touchline.

                      A few
                      hours later at the same point of the match in Paris, Irish Television
                      Match official Simon McDowell awarded France an even more contentious
                      try and Les Bleus were champions again by a mere three points. It was
                      tough to take but O'Sullivan was philosophical: "I would have preferred
                      not to have given away that try at the end but you must consider the
                      situation we were in at that moment," he pointed out. "We could have
                      kicked it into touch if we knew what was needed. That would have killed
                      the game and guaranteed us a win by 34 points. But that was a difficult
                      decision. If we had gone out to protect a lead, we wouldn't have ended
                      up with eight tries so I can't complain. I would certainly have settled
                      for this scoreline coming here.''

                      Having called for Ireland to
                      forsake the safety route and to "give it a lash" I'm not going to
                      criticise Ireland for doing just that. Instead, the many thousands of
                      men and women in the Eternal City on a glorious St Patrick's Day should
                      be rejoicing in those eight tries, two for the magnificent Denis Hickie
                      and Girvan Dempsey, and one each for Simon Easterby, Gordon D'Arcy,
                      Shane Horgan and Ronan O'Gara.

                      This was O'Gara's fourth try in
                      five matches and he has been nothing short of superb throughout. He
                      took one incredible ball off his toes to help create D'Arcy's try while
                      his inside pass to make Dempsey's f

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