KEITH Wood, Ireland's awesomely brave leader, had his body bruised and his heart broken as his team were finally overcome by Grand Slam favourites France 18-16
Hooker Wood had spent much of the middle spell of an unpredictably close contest that defied forecasts by lying on the turf being treated.
When he went off just before the hour one of the biggest upsets in Five Nations history was in prospect.
But Wood's exit signalled some activity from France and Philippe Bernat-Salles ran in the first French try before captain Raphael Ibanez won the match for his hugely relieved nation.
The hollow victory belonged to Ibanez, but Wood's side enjoyed as much glory as is possible in a losing cause.
"I was very very sore and not one bit of me does not have a bruise," said Wood.
"I came off because of an accumulation of bangs.
"There was one beautiful punch on me just before half time."
Manager Pat Whelan commented: "And don't forget the knee in the head that caused Keith's final neck muscle injury."
During the first hour Ireland played like champions and favourites in building up leads of 13-3 and 16-6.
Wood's heroes were inventive in attack and the entire squad tackled with a dynamism of back row forwards.
New coach Warren Gatland could only have wished for one final drop kick in the eight minutes between Ibanez's winning try and the final whistle.
The result was wrong for him but the performance was stunning.
Gatland said: "We were unlucky not to come away with a win. We took huge steps and regained our self respect and credibility. We completely silenced critics who thought that we would lose by 30-odd points. But we knew that France were not invincible."
Whelan said to his side: "You can leave this stadium with heads held high."
France will probably complete the Grand Slam against Wales at Wembley in April but had their self assurance shaken to the core. …