2018: Six Nations: Ireland got the result against France, but that was all
Johnny Sexton pulled one out of the bag to win in Paris, but Ireland will require a dramatic improvement to compete for the crown.
I don’t know if it’s an Irish thing or just me, but the first Irish result in the Six Nations usually sets the tone of my mood for the rest of the spring. Watching as an Irishman on Saturday I got caught up in the emotion of Johnny Sexton’s heroics, not to mention the nerves of steel from all the men in green not to drop the ball for an incredible 41 phases. You couldn’t write the story that unfolded in the Stade de France last Saturday.
However, having watched the game again on a Tuesday afternoon as a more objective spectator, I saw the game – and the Irish performance – for what it really was. A poor one.
Ireland were definitely value for their win, but they really struggled with the French line speed and other than James Ryan (my personal man of the match) and Iain Henderson, Ireland really struggled to get over the gain line.
Ireland enjoyed much better success when getting the ball into the hands of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw but didn’t do it enough. The Irish forwards – and the French in some cases – were caught with the ball from a standing start and this stifled any momentum either team had in attack, allowing the defensive poachers to go after the ball like a pack of rabid dogs.
On the rare occasion that Ireland had any momentum, they broke Joe Schmidt’s golden rule of turning territory into points and couldn’t find that killer blow. France’s defence was excellent, but their attack was woeful and it was summed up by their Number 8 Kevin Gourdon quick tapping a penalty that was immediately spilled.
France somehow found a try from nothing through Teddy Thomas and they were a kick away from putting the game out of reach for Schmidt’s men. The French scrummed as hard as they always do but unforced errors at the lineout from both sides disrupted the flow of the game. The Irish back play was at least excellent when any kind of cohesion could be found in getting the ball out wide.
The French may have inadvertently found a way to defeat Ireland, and that’s to turn rugby into the ugliest game possible.
The French play Scotland in Murrayfield next, who looked shellshocked by the weight of expectation after a hammering at the hands of the unfancied Welsh. There are no obvious changes for France really other than for injury (the less said about the HIA controversy at the weekend the better) though I would like to see Scott Spedding brought in to the mix and they do have an eight-day turnaround to recover.
Ireland, on the other hand, have room to maneuver in terms of changes against an unlucky Italian side that didn’t get what they deserved against a clinical English side in Rome.
Josh van der Flier being confirmed as out for the rest of the season means Dan Leavy, who impressed off of the bench, will get his chance from the outset with Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan battling for his bench slot. I would also imagine Jack McGrath will come in for Cian Healy.
There shouldn’t be too many changes in the backline though the only one I can possibly see is whether Jordan Larmour will get thr chance to light up the international stage as he has for Leinster this season. Whether that’s from fullback instead of Rob Kearney, replacing Jacob Stockdale or Keith Earls on a wing, or a cameo off the bench remains to be seen.
I’d like to see him start instead of Earls personally as Keith is nailed on to start against Wales in a fortnight. This means there is a call to be made between Stockdale, Larmour, and Andrew Conway (who should come onto the bench for Italy) to start the Wales game. I think Kearney should start to guide Stockdale and Larmour out wide, and that Ireland should spring Conway from the bench against a tirring Italian side.
Joey Carbery can also expect to see some minutes coming on for Sexton at 10. Either way, I expect a massive improvement from Ireland and they will need to get better over the course of the tournament with a St Patrick’s day clash an Twickenham against England looking ever more ominous.
Where do you think Ireland go from here? Let us know in the comment section!