PARIS – Ireland coach Joe Schmidt heaped praise on Johnny Sexton after the veteran flyhalf’s incredible late drop goal earned a 15-13 Six Nations win over France on Saturday.
The hosts looked to have snatched victory themselves thanks to a dazzling try from wing Teddy Thomas eight minutes from time.
But after Anthony Belleau missed a chance to extend their lead with a penalty two minutes from time, Ireland marched up the field and Sexton landed a drop goal from more than 40 metres out to send the travelling support into raptures and leave France’s despondent players flat-out on the pitch.
“He’s got a few (drop goals in the past), but not many,” joked Schmidt.
“I don’t think he was thinking too much about what the history of his drop-goal attempts or successes were.
“He did it with absolute aplomb. Credit to Johnny, he was struggling, he had a bit of cramp at the time and was fatigued.
“But his clarity of thought and ability to win it in those big moments is second to none.”
Schmidt said Ireland had been in control and defended well throughout, but admitted he had feared Thomas’ solo wonder try could have left his team distraught.
“One freakish event and one freakishly good player can undo all that (good work),” said Schmidt.
“We’ve got to work to make sure it doesn’t happen next week.”
Schmidt added: “It’s pretty hard to explain how you feel when you think that the game’s got away and you’ve let it slip, and suddenly you’ve grabbed it!”
France coach Jacques Brunel said he was frustrated by what he described as a “cruel” defeat.
But perhaps worse still were the injuries suffered by France’s players, particularly halfbacks Matthieu Jalibert and Anthony Dupont, both of whom left the field with knee problems.
“What can you feel but huge frustration? It’s cruel, it happened in the 82nd minute, or at least after the 80 minutes, but that’s the way it is,” said the 64-year-old coach, who rued Belleau’s missed penalty.
“I don’t know if it’s deserved, or if they deserved it. They (Ireland) had a lot of the ball.
“We had a chance to seal victory, but unfortunately the penalty went past the post. I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but it’s frustrating.”
Brunel is facing the prospect of changing his half-back pairing with both Jalibert and Dupont likely to be ruled out of next week’s trip to Scotland.
“It could be quite serious,” said Brunel. “Maybe for Dupont and Jalibert. We’ll wait for the medical tests but there’s a risk this defeat will cost us.”