Ireland denied once again on points difference from their first Six Nations championship, and on St Patrick’s Day to boot, as France took the challenge set by Ireland in their 8 try victory over the Azzurri. With the unlikely Italian victory out of the picture, the French set to work against Scotland in Paris, with a target of 24 points. Although England playing in Cardiff would have a mathematical chance to clinch the title, a championship victory for them would be an incredible feat. The title was France’s to lose, and Scotland’s to deny.
A dramatic start to the day in the Stadio Flaminio as Ireland looked to stretch a big point victory over Italy to put France in a difficult position later in the day. Italy started well, kicking penalties and a drop goal, and despite conceding two tries looked to be in a decent position at 12-13 until a controversial try to Ireland in the dying minutes of the half put them 12-20 ahead. The second half, however, was a one horse race, as Ireland put try after try past the Italian defence. The game opened up considerably as the scoreboard racked up a considerable points difference for Ireland, but a last minute decision to continue after the clock went red left Italy in a position to score a generously awarded second try to claw back 7 points before the final whistle. The final score of 24-51 left France needing a victory margin of 24 points to claim the trophy.
Knowing what they had to do in Paris, the Scots ignited the game with an early try to put France on the back foot. From there France fully attacked the game, looking to be half way to their tally by half time, when Sean Lamont took a quick penalty to sprint for the line and spoil French hopes. Leading 20-14 going into the second half, France got the bit between their teeth and forced a 25 point lead with over 15 minutes to go. First half hero Lamont was bizarrely sin binned for an infraction by his younger brother Rory, and all looked to be going France’s way using all the strength, speed and skill they could muster. Yet a late try from the unlikely arms of Euan Murray put the championship just beyond France’s reach. As the BBC commentator put it:
“He’s got a five yard run in, and like every good tight-head prop, he’s now got cramp!”
Patterson’s failed conversion left France needing a try to win. The clock went red, the French pushed for the line, pushing on, penalty after penalty. With the ball over the line, the referee went to the television referee asking for any reason not to award the try—and who other than an Irishman to be occupying that position! The try awarded. France triumphant. Ireland beaten on points difference for the second year running.
Although Wales will play host to England shortly, the required margin for England (victory by 57 points) to claim the championship essentially confirms France’s championship.