Declan Kidney, the Ireland coach, said the destiny of the Six Nations championship was in France's hands after seeing his team revive their hopes of a successful title defence with a 20-16 win away to England on Saturday. France ended Ireland's hopes of back to back Grand Slams with a crushing 33-10 win in Paris last month.
Les Bleus are now on course for a clean sweep themselves after their 26-20 victory away to Wales on Friday, combined with England's defeat, left the table-toppers as the only unbeaten side left in this year's tournament. France are now in pole position to claim a first Six Nations title since 2004 with their last two fixtures at home in the Stade de France with Italy due in Paris on March 13 and England in the French capital the following weekend for the last game of the championship.
But many a Six Nations title has been won by a side that has lost just one match and Ireland can also look forward to home encounters against Wales and Scotland with renewed confidence after Saturday's success at Twickenham. Nevertheless, a cautious Kidney said: "The ball is in France's court. "It will be a huge test against Wales, who've shown extraordinary resilience in coming back in three successive Test matches. They won't be in a mood to give us points."
Ireland had to play the final 10 minutes without Brian O'Driscoll, their inspirational captain, when the gifted centre was carried off on a stretcher after he was accidentally struck on the head by the knee of his own teammate Paul O'Connell. But Kidney insisted the star midfielder had not suffered serious damage. "Brian took bit of a bang. It was nothing. He was out on the pitch at the end. "He's good and is enjoying the win as much as anyone.
"Brian just felt he should make Paul do the press conference to make up for him giving him a bang on the head with his knee. "There's no risk of concussion. He's fine." Defeat against France ended Ireland's 12 match unbeaten run, which saw them end a calendar year undefeated in 2009, but at Twickenham on Saturday they scored three slick tries through their wings Tommy Bowe (two) and Keith Earls. Bowe's second, with just minutes remaining, was especially important as it put Ireland in front again after England had fought back from 13-6 down to lead 16-13 after prop Dan Cole's converted try was followed up by a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal. "That was an important response after France," said O'Connell, the British & Irish Lions captain during last year's Test series loss in South Africa.
"Brian [O'Driscoll] said yesterday [Friday] that teams are defined by how they react to losses but we could have picked an easier one to get back on the horse than England at Twickenham, especially as they had their backs to the wall as well. "I don't think we played outstandingly well but we showed a lot of intensity and a high work rate. "To come back and win the game with eight or nine minutes to go is a good feeling.
"The guys are very pleased with that," added O'Connell, who also hailed a defensive display that saw Ireland miss just one out of 100 tackles. Ireland, on a day when prop John Hayes became the first player to appear in 100 Tests for the country, unlike England, took their chances. And while Jamie Heaslip, the Ireland and British & Irish Lions No 8, was a deserved man-of-the-match after fine work at the crucial breakdown area, it was the greater class of their backs that swung the match in Ireland's favour as they beat England for the sixth time in seven meetings.
"It's great when you have backs like we do. They are great finishers, confident guys who can do it either way," said O'Connell. "We don't mind how we win but it's a great when you score three tries on a day like today." * With agencies