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comment Ireland's glass-jaw leaves them vulnerable to the deadly haymakers


Sexton spent a lot of time defending.

Sexton spent a lot of time defending.

Sexton spent a lot of time defending.

On a grim night of Hallowe'en horror in the City of Lights, France made a bonfire of Irish ambitions.

As the bones of Ireland's Six Nations challenge were interred in the Parisian catacombs, as Andy Farrell's side shrivelled before our eyes, as Les Bleus feasted on green entrails, there was no running from a brutal truth.

It was not quite the mocking thesis delivered in the Eastern Cape accent of ex Munster coach Rassie Erasmus when he dismissed Johnny Sexton and his green platoon as "softies".

But if Ireland were hardly bankrupt of competitive courage, it could not deflect from another dismal reality.

Against the superpowers of world rugby, Ireland's imperfections are magnified to Eiffel Tower dimensions.

Ireland collapsed to a calamitous second-half, a team as tattered and forlorn as a threadbare carpet.

Errors of judgement and execution abounded, made worse by a first half inability to turn possession into points.

Also evident was a glass-jaw that leaves Andy Farrell's side vulnerable to the deadly haymakers the best teams on the planet can summon almost at will.

As against New Zealand at the World Cup and England in the Six Nations, Ireland were crushed (Jacob Stockdale's buzzer-beating try taking the brutal look from the scoreline), their meltdown emphasising their place in the Six Nations hierarchy.

It is, despite the giddy hype that accompanies this team, in the servants' quarters of the European game.

England's off-colour performance in Rome had substantially flattened the expected gradient of Ireland's stairway to glory.

A six-point win with at least one touchdown, or, alternately, a four-try victory by any margin would secure a fourth Six Nations title since 2014.

They never came close.

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This latest Stade De France stopover - all be it, a ghostly and mute imitation of the ordinarily throbbing coliseum - unwrapped so many joyous memories for these Irish players.

Sexton (furious with coach Andy Farrell when he was withdrawn 12 minutes from the end), of course, was returning to the territory of perhaps his greatest glory.

Two years ago, when faced with the most severe examination of his nerve - a last-gasp, all-or-nothing drop goal from the 10-metre line without which the 2018 Grand Slam would have been stillborn - his pulse was serene.

If that fuelled a reputation as a team immune to dissolving under the harshest spotlight, this latest unravelling confirms a radically altered perception.

In a new and biting documentary charting South Africa's journey to the World Cup heavens, the Springbok coach Erasmus makes a point of lampooning Ireland's fragility when confronted by crisis.

In his team-talk before the semi-final against Wales, Erasmus cautions his team that their latest opponents "are not softies…like Ireland".

Here, when the interrogations began, Ireland melted.

Gaelic Fickou, his feet dancing as if on a Moulin Rouge stage left Andrew Porter and Conor Murray grasping at shadows; Antoine Dupont finished the winger's prep work.

In a brief moment of hope and in what might have been a tribute to Sean Connery, the ultimate James Bond, whose death was announced yesterday, Cian Healy illustrated why diamonds are forever.

On his 100th appearance in green - only the sixth player to pass that milestone - the centurion's try provided Ireland with a meaningful foothold.

Afterward, Healy resembled a battered automobile in urgent need of a visit to the body shop as he gasped for air, coughed furiously and, soon after, departed for a HIA.

Ireland were dominating possession and territory - and yet they trailed by four at half-time.

Any chance of a second half counter-offensive were smashed by Ireland's multiple systems failures.

Even on Halloween, Ireland could not find a way to dress up their inadequacies.

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