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Roy Curtis: Les Bleus are left scorched by green Irish flame

Ireland prove World Cup claims are valid and authentic

Garry Ringrose celebrates on his way to scoring Ireland's fourth try against France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland makes a break during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship against France. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Antoine Dupont of France showed his class. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images© Getty Images

11 February 2023; Jonathan Sexton of Ireland makes a break during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Roy CurtisSunday World

It was coruscating, a luminous Irish dream poem, devastating green flame flaring from the throat of an uncontainable Celtic dragon.

Andy Farrell’s side delivered something miraculous, a performance so laden down with sorcery and courage, and an absolute refusal to bend as to verge on the supernatural.

Here was a defining 80 minutes, one that carried the entire force of the world number-one team’s soul, the complete package of their talent, physicality and tactical expertise.

And their resilience too, as even the loss of key players and a contentious refereeing decision could not touch their unyielding conviction.

France were occasionally mesmerising, the irresistible Damian Penaud and the peerless Gallic genius Antoine Dupont among those touching the heavens.

But Ireland were better again, a group climbing to the highest rung of their potential, delivering a display for the ages.

Not even the potentially devastating loss of their talisman, Johnny Sexton, for almost the entire second half could derail the surge toward an increasingly visible Grand Slam terminus.

Ross Byrne simply stepped seamlessly up to conduct the sinking sun of France’s hopes.

The home team might have been unsettled by Wayne Barnes’s ludicrous refusal to red card Uini Atonio for an alarming, dangerously high tackle that ended Rob Herring’s afternoon.

Instead, they advanced onto another plain of coherence, offering the certainty of a team readily embracing the potential to create something larger than themselves.

On a fever-pitched Dublin afternoon, there were an abundance of occasions when Andy Farrell’s gladiators showcased their thrilling potential to make 2023 the year of a lifetime.

Few who witnessed it will easily discard the memory of the gymnastic athleticism of James Lowe, the winger’s mid-air choreography, allowing him to contort, defy gravity and a heavy tackle, to somehow touch down in the corner.

Equally stirring was Conor Murray’s exhibition of competitive character, the scrum-half setting aside the emotional shock of his father, Gerry, suffering a serious midweek road accident to deliver the very best of himself.

Then there was the bayonet-like instincts of Gary Ringrose, the Leinster centre somehow fending off tackles to deliver a 72nd-minute try that felt like a dagger to French hearts.

From the increasingly impressive ball-carrying and offloading of Caelan Doris to the study in full-back efficiency that is Hugo Keenan, Ireland delivered a sustained barrage of fracturing coherence.

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland makes a break during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship against France. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Doris, a legitimate contender for the planet’s most in-form player, might yet show his fellow Mayo men, still seeking an All-Ireland after 72 years, the route to the sporting summit.

Because in this form, clinical against power-packed opponents, this is a team with authentic World Cup ambitions.

Remember, Ireland started without Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan and Rob Henshaw, lost Sexton, Tadhg Beirne and Herring long before the finishing line, and still they atomised the World Cup favourites.

Ireland’s defence was a sprinkler system extinguishing French fires; their gunslinging attack, from the moment Keenan burst through to finish a rehearsed move, frequently hit the target.

Here was a landmark moment in Six Nations history: The first time in all its years that the venerable old championship had hosted a collision between the world’s No 1 and No 2 sides.

In an age where even the ho-hum is ludicrously, shamelessly overhyped, this game’s required no hyperbole.

France, Grand Slam champions, World Cup favourites, unbeaten in 14. Ireland, on a roll that saw them take down the All Blacks in New Zealand, before knocking over South Africa in Dublin as part of a 12-game Aviva winning streak.

France, the only team of note yet to succumb to Farrell’s side, represented a final frontier of sorts.

As forthright off the pitch as he is precise in battle fatigues, Sexton nailed the sense of occasion as he has many a game-defining goal kick.

Antoine Dupont of France showed his class. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images© Getty Images

“It feels like a huge game. It is a huge game. There’s no point in saying anything otherwise. You can’t just come in here and say ‘it’s just another game’ because it’s not. It’s one we’ve waited a long time for.”

Sexton was visibly emotional during the anthems and spoke with touching passion as he reflected on a landmark victory.

“We had a very special week, a special build-up to the game. We had a couple of special guests in during the week who spoke about Ireland’s Call and it was very emotional.

“Brian O’Driscoll and David Irwin came in and spoke to us about the Shoulder to Shoulder documentary and it was very special.

“It was a hell of a game. We showed up. A very special game.

“The first we played them here in Covid times we looked all over the place. The next time in Stade De France, a little bit better, but we still weren’t ourselves.

​“I think today we gave a true account of ourselves. It was a hell of a game.

“If everything goes to plan in the World Cup and we get through the group there’s a chance we can meet them again. So it was good to get the fact that they were the only team we hadn’t beaten over the last year off our back.”

Next for Sexton and Ireland is Italy in Rome.

The greatest danger to a team advancing to new heights is that their ears might pop such is the impressive altitude they have attained.

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