Friday, October 09, 2015

Preview : Ireland v France


logo post greenOn our Facebook page we’ve been changing our “cover photo” every Friday to remember a past World Cup encounter with our next opposition.  That has made for pleasant viewing in previous weeks given we have comfortably dispatched Canada, Romania and Italy in days gone by.
France didn’t make for quite the same research, however - we’ve yet to overcome them on this stage.  Still, we opted for a pic from 2003 anyway because if nothing else it shows the task we have ahead.

This latest team announcement was by far the most intriguing.  The “night-before leak” of the presumptive matchday 23 caused much online discussion, as the starting lineup excluded both of our last two Men of the Match Iain Henderson and Keith Earls.

So cometh the hour of announcement at 2pm today, but actual fact it has been put back by 30 minutes.  Rumours fly around twitter.  Phone calls are made saying one will be late for one’s promised duties.  Eventually it emerges that Jared Payne’s injury hasn’t recovered sufficiently to ensure he can both play this weekend and next, so he is not being chanced.  And it turns out that Keith Earls has been chosen to pole vault back into the team at 13.

OK let’s have a look at a few issues surrounding the selection…
  • The original leaked lineup - I love it.  Couldn’t fault it. Maybe, just maybe, that’s only because it is man for man the 23 I predicted after the Romania match, but that’s neither here nor there.
  • Toner over Henderson - more contentious a call than any of the others in my book.  The Ulsterman literally could not have done any more the stake a claim for a starting berth with his displays so far.  But as with every decision, we have to factor in what is meant by “Schmidtball”.  The lazy parochial keyboard warriors out there will assume he has gone for Toner because of his Leinster connections.  Those who have actually taken the time to examine his test strategies since 2013, however, will know that we play a game that heavily relies on a steady platform from set pieces.  Toner is every bit as key to our lineout as Mike Ross is to our scrum.  But that’s not just because he could reach up and change a bulb in the floodlights with one hand while still snagging a dart with the other.  It’s also because he has an intelligence about him when it comes to calling the right lineout for the right area of the pitch and right time of the match, and this takes a heap of pressure off of his captain.   Henderson is a star in the making of that there is no doubt.  I wouldn’t bet against him captaining the Lions one day.  But the way this particular squad, coach and philosophy have panned out, his use as an impact sub makes more sense to me than it apparently does to others.
  • Earls at 13 - can he handle Bastareaud? : First, we have to erase the memory of Manu Tuilagi smoking him before the 2011 World Cup.  If every player carried incidents like that through their careers, nobody would ever get picked.  Having said that, the half-hour delay naming the team certainly wasn’t the best vote of confidence in Earls defensively from a PR standpoint.  “Are you SURE Jared can’t play?  No, really...are you SURE you’re sure?”  Again I’m going to have to resort to the Schmidt factor to make me feel good about this issue.  For one thing, I have a feeling that his fellow centre Henshaw is going to be tackling the big Frenchman just as much as Earls is.  Then we have the fact that refs are particularly looking for his trademark “forearm smash” that has done for Sexton more than once.  Finally, we must put our faith in the player as his coach has...there were other options for that jersey with Payne ruled out.
  • Strauss over Cronin at 16 : I raised an eyebrow at first but when I thought about it, it went back down.  Cronin certainly gives plenty of bang for his back off the bench but we now have that in spades with Henderson.  With Strauss, you get better set pieces and more crucially for me anyway, more turnovers.  I can totally imagine a scenario whereby we’re less than a score ahead in the dying seconds only for “Mighty Mauss” to get himself over the ball forcing Nigel Owens to ping the carrier.
  • Luke over Zebo at 23 : As I’ve said before (though it was ignored by those who would accuse me of Leinster bias) I personally would have Zebo on the bench, in case we needed some “x factor” to crack open a stubborn D in the closing stages.  That said, Luke’s selection makes sense for Schmidtball.  Again no, not because of provincial origin, rather because Joe is more about the method than the x factor and Luke can slot in at more different positions than Simon.
OK thats enough on our team...what about France’s?  For one thing I find it interesting that they have gone in the press talking about how much they are going to “get” Johnny Sexton.  I just wonder how Freddie Michalak will last 80 minutes of first Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and later Iain Henderson & Chris Henry getting in his face.

Since Joe took the reins, Ireland v France has become as close to a perfect “methodical vs gut instinct” battle as you’ll get in test rugby,   So far, we’re 2 and 0, and for the French to stop it becoming 3, they’ll have to find a way through our defence - leaving it up to the players to work it out on the day won’t be near enough.

For me, if I could have chosen to take one player out of their lineup at the start of RWC2015 it would have been Yoann Huget, and while I wouldn’t wish injury on anyone, it would appear the rugby gods have granted this wish.  So provided we won’t be prone to giving them any easy chances, they will need something crafty up their sleeves to get the job done and it will be interesting to see what that is.

And speaking of keeping something in reserve, despite the late re-jig of the lineup this should be the first showcase of the offensive plan that we have been told Joe & co have been keeping under wraps.   Given that legend has it he told Leinster backs before a European final “run these plays and you will score tries” only for it to work to a T, hopefully this will be worth the wait and justify all the “cards-close-to-the-chest” tactics we have seen up to now.

My only worry, as I have said many times before, is that if for whatever reason, be it a slight lacking in accuracy, stellar French D or pure dumb bad luck, the offence isn’t working, we need to be able to fall back on something less intricate to keep our side of the scoreboard moving, since it goes without saying that keeping the French score low won’t be near enough.

Prediction time.  Bookies have us by 2.  Before the team announcement when the “leaked” team was out there, I had us by 3.  Now I have us by 1.  Not sure any of the differential really matters though. 

Few had faith in Martin O’Neill’s men last night against the World Champions, mostly because of a perceived lacking in certain positions.  It turned out those worries were unfounded.  In Cardiff on Sunday, WE’RE the ones who can call ourselves champions, albeit of Europe, and if nothing else the boys in green have earned the right to have our full backing.  They certainly have it from me.  Roll on Sunday and victories for Ireland in rugby v France, in soccer v Poland, and let’s not forget the cricketers who play Zimbabwe.

Every match we play from here on in is the biggest Ireland have played since Wales in Wellington in 2011 (yes I’m counting France in Paris 2014 - definitely a big match yet loses points with me not being for a Grand Slam).  Yes, that puts a lot of pressure on, but Joe & co have had this on their radar for more than two years now so I doubt I could possibly add much more.  They are more than able for this and I’m backing them to get the job done.  JLP

UPDATE Sunday morning

Obviously the news of Jared Payne's broken foot is a cruel blow to both him personally and the entire Irish set-up.  

As I have said several times, Joe Schmidt has a specific vision for the role of his centres and it's clear that both Henshaw & Payne were his preferred duo for making it happen on the pitch.  But such is the nature of rugby tournaments and I doubt we'd be getting too much sympathy from, for example, the Welsh or the English!  So we must soldier on.  

When it comes to a replacement, given how much stock Joe puts in the value of training with the team, I can't see anyone being flown in who would be likely to get game time unless there is further injury.  Which leaves two options...go for a young player such as Stuart McCloskey from Ulster who is a prospect for the future and could benefit from the experience, or perhaps a wiser head from whom the squad could draw inspiration like Gordon D'Arcy.

I also put forward a suggesting that was tongue-in-cheek but not 100% ridiculous (maybe 98 or 99 though!) in Garry Ringrose.  Now wouldn't THAT be a "Roy of the Rovers" story and a half!

#COYBIG  #ShoulderToShoulder  #4ProudProvinces #TrustJoe

FRANCE : 15. Scott Spedding 14. Noa Nakaitaci 13. Mathieu Bastareaud 12. Wesley Fofana 11. Brice Dulin 10. Frederic Michalak 9. Sebastien Tillous-Borde

1. Eddy Ben Arous 2. Guilhem Guirado 3. Rabah Slimani 4. Pascal Pape 5. Yoann Maestri 6. Thierry Dusautoir (capt) 7. Damien Chouly 8. Louis Picamoles

Replacements: 16. Benjamin Kayser 17. Vincent Debaty 18. Nicolas Mas 19. Alexandre Flanquart 20. Bernard le Roux 21. Morgan Parra 22. Remi Tales 23. Alexandre Dumouli

Referee: Nigel Owens

Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes, Leighton Hodges

Television Match Official: Graham Hughes

Rugby World Cup 2015 - Pool D

Sunday 11th October 2015, KO 16:45

Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Live on TV3


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019