Friday, March 08, 2019

Preview : Ireland v France

Mathematically, Ireland still have a chance to win the 2019 Six Nations title. Realistically though, that chance is very slim. 
The Welsh victory over Eddie Jones men might have given us the opportunity to finish the campaign with the same number of wins as both of them if we win our on remaining matches, but it is our failure to secure bonus points in both defeat v England and victory v Scotland that puts matters out of our hands. 

Some would say betting against England taking maximum points from their final two matches, both at home against Scotland and Italy respectively, would be brave - others, like myself, would say it was foolish.  And should that happen, they would finish on 20pts, a total we cannot reach. 

All of which means that while we should never give up altogether, with RWC2019 on the horizon what is paramount for Ireland is to dig deep and find the form that gave us such an incredible 2018 yet somehow went missing in the month of February. 

So it's all about the performance, and this XV is the closest we have been to last year's successful combinations so far in this tournament.  But it can't all be about personnel, a lot has to do with how we set about playing on Sunday. 

The extra weekend off between Rome and now has given the Irish ruggersphere loads of time to nitpick our three outings in this Six Nations so far and come up with possible ‘solutions’.  Personally I don't think we need to make too many changes, in fact I think the more we do, the more it could have the opposite of the desired effect. 

Repeated box kicking and resorting to one out runners might not be the most pleasing on the eye, but to abandon it altogether because of what is more than likely a temporary dip in accuracy would be absolute madness IMO. 

Going into two tough matches in six days, and with so little time left until the World Cup, I reckon Joe's best bet would be to work with them in such a way as to find those levels of excellence again rather than tinker too much. 

It all starts with our half backs, and what both Messrs Murray and Sexton must do is find a way to withstand the inevitable onslaught of, ahem, ‘special attention’ they are bound to receive, and then produce the kind of form that has them recognised as arguably the greatest pairing in test rugby. 

Once the 9 and 10 are humming, the confidence should flow in both directions among forwards and backs; I know that is how it's supposed to work in rugby anyway as they're the conduits, but in this particular group of players it is even more important. 

That this match is at the familiar surroundings of the Aviva gives them a perfect opportunity to make sure to settle quickly, and assuming the French are coming with a plan to thwart us, we'll have to cop on to them quickly. 

All of which means that we will be heavily reliant on the leaders in the squad.  Rory Best being back will help in the area of dealing with the ref, Peter O’Mahony can help deal with the aforementioned special attention, Iain Henderson with calling the lineouts and Rob Kearney with the safe pair of hands. 

Then there's Garry Ringrose. He has played his way to undroppability in the Irish set up and despite being still in his early 20s he can already be seen as something of a leader in the group. 

Yet I get the feeling that we haven't come close to seeing his full potential, and this could be down to our game-plan not being built more around him and his particular skill set.  Up to now I get the feeling that when he makes good contributions it tends to come in the form of tidying up imperfect situations either with or without the ball, and if we include him more in attacking strategies we could well reap much benefit. 

Do we have much to worry about with this French squad?  Well the fact that they are unchanged is certainly eye-catching; it's a rare thing in modern rugby, particularly in the northern hemisphere. Snatching a late bonus point try against the Scots will have their tails up and they won't have forgotten how close they came to ending last year's Grand Slam run before it started. 

But I'm not ready to abandon all hope in this Irish squad on the back of a few below par showings, especially since what we consider ‘par’ received a major upgrade in the 12 months before. 

The bookies have certainly not abandoned hope as they have Ireland winning by 13 points. I'd be absolutely delighted with that, though while I feel we will prevail on Sunday, I reckon the French might just nick a score or two leaving the final margin in single digits, though at the higher end.

One thing is for sure - the boys in green will need every ounce of support we can muster on Sunday.   This is the last competitive home match before the World Cup and if we want them to raise their game to where we know it can be, it's up to us to show it. 

So let's get behind them and get this World Cup year back on track!  JLP

PS Best of luck as always to both the Women's and Under 20s squads who also face their French counterparts this weekend - the latter kickoff the weekend defending their unbeaten record in Cork on Friday night. 


FRANCE : France : 15. Thomas Ramos 14. Damian Penaud 13. Mathieu Bastareaud 12. Gaël Fickou 11. Yoann Huget 10. Romain Ntamack 9. Antoine Dupont
1. Jefferson Poirot 2. Guilhem Guirado (c) 3. Demba Bamba 4. Félix Lambey 5. Sébastien Vahaamahina 6. Wenceslas Lauret 7. Arthur Iturria 8. Louis Picamoles
Replacements : 16. Camille Chat 17. Etienne Falgoux 18. Dorian Aldegheri 19. Paul Willemse 20. Gregory Alldritt 21. Baptiste Serin 22. Anthony Belleau 23. Maxime Médard

Guinness Six Nations 2019 - Round 4
Sunday, March 10, 2019
KO : 3pm
Aviva Stadium

Referee : Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant 1 : Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant 2 : Karl Dickson (England)
TMO : Ben Skeen (New Zealand)


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