The late calls and plays that cost Ireland another memorable Parisian comeback
"I was sitting at home, watching it, and going, 'Take the shot. Take the points!'"
James Ryan and Andy Farrell both stuck by a crucial, late penalty call against France.
Should Ireland have kicked for points or an attacking lineout when they were awarded a late penalty against Les Bleus? Whatever your gut said at the time, the fact that Ireland lost means many have honed in on the call as where France were let off the hook.
On the latest House of Rugby URC [LISTEN from 8:30 below], Ireland legend John Hayes sided with Ryan's on-field call, but many have disagreed.
What certainly did not help were the calls and instructions being bellowed at James Ryan, which were picked up by the referee microphone of Angus Gardner and may have influenced the Ireland captain.
The frantic final 15 minutes
To understand a little better how Ireland, after twice staging comebacks, failed with chances to overtake France's 27-21 lead, we took a closer look at the final 15 minutes.
France are six points clear and Antoine Dupont, under little pressure and off an attacking scrum just inside their half, kicks to Hugo Keenan inside the Ireland 22. Keenan kicks for touch. France win a patchy lineout but Dan Sheehan secures a turnover by batting the ball loose from Dupont.
Tadhg Furlong makes a big carry, Dupont is nearly whistled for jumping the gun and half-rushing offside and Garry Ringrose has a grubber-kick blocked. Tadhg Beirne then steps up with a big kick of his own that - as a 50/22 - skitters out for an attacking Irish lineout. In the commentary box, Miles Harrison exclaims:
"Has Beirne done it? He has... oh HE HAS!"
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) February 12, 2022
France plant seed of doubt with lineout steal
With 13 minutes to go, Ireland have an attacking lineout from about 10 metres out. Andy Farrell's side had not enjoyed the easiest of lineout evenings, with the French often jumping into Irish space and grabbing at arms even after balls had been claimed.
So it proved again [below] as No.6 Francois Cros is lifted straight across Iain Henderson.
It causes Henderson to drop the ball and the turnover is secured. Would this lineout misfortune later play on the mind of James Ryan and his teammates?
Dupont pumps the ball back into Ireland's half and both Andrew Porter and Garry Ringrose make good carries before a stray Conor Murray pass is hacked on and Robbie Henshaw is forced to hare back to dive on the ball.
A few phases later, Furlong is smashed back on a carry, forcing Carbery to put up a kick that Andrew Conway chases well to ensure Gabin Villiere cannot get away. There is some kick tennis and Mack Hansen is blocked from contesting with Gregory Alldritt in the air. Advantage France there. More kick tennis but Ireland get the ball back, with 10 minutes to play.
Carbery shows great hands as Murray slings one that is slightly off target, then sets Hansen away for a nice gain. Irish pressure eventually tells as Thibaud Flament concedes a penalty. When Gardner's whistle sounds, the clock is a 71:06.
As the French players back away, a very loud and certain voice is picked up on the ref-mic of Gardner:
"POINTS! POINTS! POINTS! POINTS!!"
That call, over on the far side of the pitch, is certainly heard by Carbery and Murray as they looked to the touchline.
On co-commentary for ITV, former Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy remarks:
"You can definitely hear somebody, off someone's microphone, recommending taking the points!"
As if for further emphasis, we once again hear, "POINTS!"
Carbery turns to Ryan [71:26 on the match clock] and says, "Points."
James Ryan quickly looks back to Carbery and Murray and tells Gardner they will go for the points.
'Right decision at the time' - James Ryan
The players out there will tell you that they ultimately made the call, and that was the post-match position of James Ryan, but he, Carbery and Murray all heard the calls being bellowed from near the touchline.
Carbery would go on to land that kick, making it 27-24. By the time Romain Ntamack restarted, we were at 72:45 on the clock. Still plenty of time to get back into scoring positions inside the French half.
On that penalty call, after the match, Ryan would later say:
"[It] just felt like it was the right decision at the time. We were imposing our game on them in that period. We felt confident in our attack and we thought we could bring the game to three points and we backed ourselves to go and win the game then off the back of that."
Andy Farrell was asked about the same call, immediately after, and proclaimed, "It's the right decision, there is no doubt about that.
"[The players] feel the game, they are in the moment, they understand what is happening. There is plenty of time left. We have a lineout after that when we were a couple of points down. We had a lineout and an opportunity to go and score the try and we didn’t, and that’s the game, so I back them to make those calls."
Dan Sheehan's try-saving intervention
The next minute passes with Conor Murray trading kicks with Ntamack and Jaminet while Gael Fickou blocks off Hansen on another kick-chase.
France are playing territory over possession, at this stage, but they win another kicking battle when Hansen does not catch a kick right. France have a lineout on the Irish 10-metre line and 'La Marseillaise' rings out as the home crowd sense their side are almost home.
Ntamack puts up a Garryowen that Villiere bats back. Ireland get possession for a nano-second but the ball spills on and France get the knock-on call by Gardner. Fickou uses the advantage to chip ahead and Flament gathers. They are now on the Irish 22.
76:35 and France are on phase five and have gained slight ground. Josh van der Flier is lucky not to concede a penalty and Iain Henderson puts in a big hit to slow the host's momentum. Caelan Doris is then pinged for handling the ball on the deck while well off his feet. Aware of the call, Maxime Lucu spins the ball wide.
Perhaps sensing they are outnumbered Keenan rushes up but cannot get Jaminet, his opposite number down. He succeeds only in taking out Carbery. Andrew Conway has to now turn inside to scramble but all hopes rest on Dan Sheehan saving the day. Somehow... he does just that.
"I suppose when you know he's going to be over the line," Sheehan will later tell us, "by that time you have to get your hand on the ball.
"If I go for his waist, there's no point. In that situation you know you have to get at least something on the ball and then it's just to wrap as tight as you can. I think it's just natural instinct."
Incredibly, Ireland are still alive. Jaminet is denied but he goes back to chip over a penalty from right in front of the posts. Jaminet takes his full allocation of time allowed for the kick, so Jack Carty - on for Carbery - restarts at 78:30.
78:37 - Ireland do not win the restart, but Henderson makes an impressive rip that gets them the ball back. Ireland are 30 metres from the French tryline.
78:58 - Carty goes for broke in and effort to find Sheehan, on the charge, on the left wing. "I think that might be forward," says D'Arcy. It definitely is. Sheehan cannot hold on, anyway. France have the ball back.
79:26 - Rather than risking being penalised in their half, France opt to kick the ball away with just under 40 seconds to go. The kick is deep but Keenan chases back to gather. At best, he might reach the halfway line before he is tackled. Andrew Conway tells him to put the ball up.
79:36 - The Keenan kick is too short, travelling all of 10 metres forward. It gives Conway little chance and Dylan Cretin swats it back to Yoram Moefana.
80:04 - Three phases later and, with the clock in the red, Lucu finds Ntamack, who lashes the ball out of play."France have it," exclaims Harrison. They had it.
In February 2018, Johnny Sexton went to the air to connect with Keith Earls with an all-or-nothing kick that kept their memorable comeback alive.
In October 2020, an Ireland team captained by Johnny Sexton were criticised for not taking their points in a Six Nations loss to France. 16 months on and the criticism came for not being more attacking and taking the points on offer, instead.
To the victor the spoils. As Brian O'Driscoll would later surmise, on ITV, "Listen, of course it's not the right call because they haven't won the game now. It's easy to look back retrospectively."