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Life without Sex' We just could not manage to get our noses in front, if we had then France might have wilted


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Hugo Keenan of Ireland is tackled by Antoine Dupont of France during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between France and Ireland at Stade de France in Paris, France. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Hugo Keenan of Ireland is tackled by Antoine Dupont of France during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between France and Ireland at Stade de France in Paris, France. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Hugo Keenan of Ireland is tackled by Antoine Dupont of France during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between France and Ireland at Stade de France in Paris, France. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

So there is life without Johnny Sexton!

Ireland's rugby heroes gave everything in Paris last night, but just came up short against a top French team.

It was an annoying defeat, ­because we battled back so well from a horror start.

Yet the thing is we never managed to take the lead. France might have wilted if we could have managed that, the crowd would have got on their backs and the game might have flowed our way. But we just could not get our noses in front.

You have to give French coach Fabien Galthie credit for the win. He took Ireland on at our own game, the breakdown.

France flooded players into that area and they were seriously ­aggressive there.

We never got quick ball, other than the one that Jamison Gibson-Park got his try from.

The French always seemed to be able to hold us up for that vital five seconds before we could move the ball.

Galthie knew where he had to beat Ireland, and his players went out and did it for him.

Our players almost did it for our coach Andy Farrell.

Joey Carbery did a fine job, ­replacing our most valuable player in Sexton.

It is hard to credit that this was Joey's first ever start in a Six ­ Nations match.

We know now that he can handle any game, having survived in the cauldron that was the Stade de France last night.

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The backs outside Joey put some nice moves together considering they were often under heavy pressure and it was not always good ball that came their way.

Our forwards stood up to the mighty French pack and gave as good as they got.

For all the talk that our scrum would be blown away by French heft, it didn't happen. We more than held our own there.

Yet if the scrum was solid, the line-out was not - and Paul O'Connell will have a few stiff sessions with the jumpers coming up.

Perhaps hooker Ronan Kelleher going off so early didn't help. But his replacement Dan Sheehan would have practised long and hard with the jumpers for such an eventuality. It just wasn't good all round there.

Regular readers of this column will know that I'm a big fan of the way French rugby is going about its business as they aim to win the World Cup on their own soil next year.

They have a really formidable pack. Remember their usual ­captain, back-rower Charles Ollivon, wasn't playing in this one because of injury.

And of course they have Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack pulling the strings outside the forwards.

Yet we still almost beat them.

We may have to beat them at that World Cup, as France are a probable World Cup quarter-final opponent.

If that happens it is going to be some match. But Ireland will have to be that bit more clinical.

Some little things went wrong for us. It was a huge gamble to bring Iain Henderson onto the subs' bench when he has played so little rugby since the Lions Tour last July.

Twice in the closing stages, the lack of playing time caught up with the big man.

He wasn't sharp enough to take the vital catch when Ireland had a throw-in in the French 22.

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Joey Carbery steps up in the absence of Johnny Sexton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Joey Carbery steps up in the absence of Johnny Sexton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Joey Carbery steps up in the absence of Johnny Sexton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Should that throw have been called on him in the circumstances?

Then Iain couldn't hold onto a ball in midfield that would have given Ireland priceless possession as the clock became our enemy.

Late on, he did make one huge steal from a French forward, but couldn't get the ball to a colleague.

It was that sort of day for him and for everyone. We had a chance to win this game and let it slide between our fingers.

The Grand Slam may be gone, but the Championship is still very much on for Ireland, and the bonus point bagged yesterday could yet prove vital.

We've six points on the table now and the next aim is surely to get a win and a four-try bonus point when we play Italy in Dublin a fortnight today.

However, as I've mentioned previously here, we've got to try out players such as Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Ryan Baird and Gavin Coombes in that game.

We found out yesterday that Joey Carbery can do the business, now we've got to put depth on our panel for the World Cup by finding if those young lads and others can shine in a Green shirt.

We won't be doing it in the last two games of the Six Nations against England and Scotland, and we certainly won't be doing it in New Zealand in the summer.

No, we've got to take a chance against Italy by playing these young lads and resting some of the front-liners.

I wrote earlier that this was an annoying defeat and another reason for that is it leaves us now depending on someone else for a favour in the Champonship.

Scotland might do it for us in the next round of games, when they host France in Murrayfield, after they left a win behind them in Cardiff yesterday.

Yet I've the sneaking feeling that we left a lot behind us in Paris last night.

Looking at this Irish team, and the three games we have left to play, Italy at home, England away and then Scotland at home, they are three very winnable matches.

This was the one we needed to have a shot at the Grand Slam and it got away from us.

And it was a match we could have won. France were good, no they were very good.

However with a little bit more composure on our part, they were there for the taking and we didn't do it.

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