‘Mission accomplished at Croke Park’ – Laporte

France head coach Bernard Laporte is putting to one side any thoughts of winning the Grand Slam in the Six Nations Championship, preferring instead to revel in the psychological blow his team have dealt Ireland.

Vincent Clerc scored a last-gasp converted try as Les Bleus claimed a superb 20-17 win over the Irish at Croke Park on Sunday to put themselves in the driving seat with three games left in the tournament.

With home matches against Wales and Scotland to come, it seems the major obstacle to France – who beat Italy 39-3 in the opening round of fixtures – will be England at Twickenham on March 11.

For now, however, Laporte is simply content to have ended the Grand Slam hopes of Ireland, who he considered favourites for the tournament.

And with the two countries in the same group in the World Cup later this year, he is also delighted to see his team strike an early blow to Eddie O’Sullivan’s men.

“The objective of the day was to prevent Ireland from winning the Grand Slam,” he said.

“Us, we are still not sure of claming the Six Nations and still less of winning the Grand Slam. But we have at least prevented a major rival, who had a favourable run of fixtures, from doing it.

“We hold the aces. And as we are going to play them again in the group stages in the World Cup, I had said to my players: ‘We mustn’t let them come to the World Cup having seen them claim a Grand Slam’.”

Laporte was just as negative in his appraisal of France’s performance in the pulsating Croke Park clash.

His team started excellently and will have been disappointed to have only taken a 13-11 lead into half-time.

Ireland came back into the game after the break, and appeared to have won it when Ronan O’Gara slotted over a penalty with minutes left to make it 17-13 to the hosts.

France won the restart, however, and after a series of phases, Toulouse winger Clerc powered through some powder-puff tackling to go over under the posts.

Even considering the emotional background of the match – it was the first rugby union international to be played at Croke Park – Laporte was still far from happy.

“I am very content with the start of the match but the score at the end of the first half was not right taking into account what we had done,” he added.

“We could have scored two more tries and two more penalties. After the break, the Irish monopolised possession and we were made to look fragile, especially our kicking game.

“We were not allowed to play in their half and put pressure on them. So I was a little frustrated by this and by the points we missed out on scoring because there was a chance to make it a much better match for us.”

Captain Raphael Ibanez, who burrowed through for France’s opening try, backed up Laporte’s comments.

“He is right. It is a shame, because we had the chances, but we could not finish them off and leave an imprint on the opposition,” said Ibanez.

“On the pitch, you could sense it. The team was nervous. Missing the little things can make the difference, and you know you can pay dearly for it.

“We also stressed the need to keep our discipline, but we were penalised too many times, especially on the ground.

“We won and that is the most important thing, but it wasn’t so accomplished,” he said in L’Equipe.

Five players – Yannick Jauzion, Sebastien Chabal, Pascal Pape, David Skrela and Lionel Nallet – all sustained slight knocks during the match, and will receive treatment this week.

France’s next game in the Six Nations is against Wales on February 24.

365 Digital

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