Six of the Best from Rory
Tuesday, 18 March 2014
POYNTZPASS man Rory Best was one of Ireland's heroes in Paris as a famous victory for the men in green sent Brian O'Driscoll into international retirement as a Six Nations champion, writes Richard Bullick.
Ireland won an absolute thriller at the Stade de France 22-20 to take the title on points difference from England, who had beaten Joe Schmidt's side at Twickenham but previously lost in Paris.
This was just the second time that Ireland have been crowned champions since 1985 and a first triumph in Paris since the legendary O'Driscoll burst onto the scene with a stunning hat-trick of tries on St Patrick's weekend back in 2000.
Schmidt's side scored three tries en route to a deserved victory but France nearly snatched the spoils in a dramatic conclusion which saw their late touchdown correctly ruled out by the video referee for a forward pass.
The visitors heroically held on to take the win and a second championship success for both Best and O'Driscoll, who were among several survivors from the glorious green Grand Slam of 2009.
Ireland's most capped hooker of all time, Best has set a new record for international appearances by any Ulsterman this spring with Saturday being his 75th cap compared to David Humphreys' previous record of 72.
He had the best throwing record of any hooker in the current Championship, combined with his ferociously committed and typically effective work at the breakdown and around the pitch.
England's failure to win by 50 points in Rome earlier in the afternoon meant Ireland knew any win would do at the Stade de France, though that was still a tall order given their record of only one victory in Paris since 1972.
France nudged 6-0 ahead with two penalties in the opening quarter but Ireland struck back midway through the half when a great offload from Ulster flanker Chris Henry put Johnny Sexton over for a try.
The outhalf failed to add the extras but Ireland were still in front by the half hour mark, a break by O'Driscoll leading to sniping scrumhalf Conor Murray freeing Ulsterman Andrew Trimble for an excellent try which Sexton converted before badly missing an injury-time penalty to leave Ireland trailing 13-12 at the interval.
But Trimble, O'Driscoll and Sexton combined for the outhalf's second try which he converted and then landed a penalty to put the visiting team two scores clear.
However France, unrecognisable from their poor performances earlier in this Championship, fought hard and a disputed try - the referee failed to check the grounding with his video colleague - brought them back to within two points.
Ireland defiantly held out throughout an incredibly intense final quarter, giving Schimidt silverware in his first season in charge and the imcomparable O'Driscoll the fairytale ending no neutral worldwide would have begrudged him.
“There was so much at stake and so much emotion around it being Brian's last game. The reception we got on our return to Dublin Airport was probably even more memorable than after the Grand Slam in 2009," reflected a delighted Best.
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