Far from perfect, anything but simple and in general; tense as hell. Ireland VS France has always been anything but a straight forward fixture and yesterday in the Aviva reached lofty new heights. It didn’t have as much riding on it as last year of course but it was the chance for Ireland’s first back to back win over Les Bleus in 13 years and you could see every inch of that on the pitch.
Worry number 1 before the game was whether or not Jonathan Sexton was fit for 80 minutes. As it turned out Mathieu Basteraud made sure that didn’t happen and Sexton had to sit out a ten minute concussion bin but that incident aside; the General was back. With 15 of 18 points coming from his boot and an absolutely massive collision from Basteraud to boot there was no disputing of Sexton’s fitness to be had.
Same too applied to Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip who turned out in a huge way for the back row. True enough this game was won right there on the gain line. Ireland simply didn’t allow France to get anywhere beyond the given ruck they were forming and it was telling that France looked most threatening when they managed to out maneuver Ireland in said territory. As if we hadn’t talked them up in March 2014 enough, France were up for this. The only real factor against them was that Ireland didn’t let them have the ball – the possession stats surely read something akin to 65 percent Ireland.
Worry number 2 is that Ireland didn’t do a whole lot with said possession. Joe Schmidt nurtured a try scoring culture in his time with Leinster so the lack of tries scored by Ireland in these opening two weeks has some a little on edge. Two things here though: how many of those tries were scored or created by Isa Nacewa and how many try scoring opportunities were butchered by Ireland yesterday? The answers respectively are lots and few. With Leinster Schmidt did turn them into a massive attacking force but when you have Nacewa thrown into the mix with the like of Luke Fitzgerald, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney you’ll score any day. Secondly, Ireland only had two try scoring opportunities go a begging. It wasn’t the game plan. The plan from the first second in the Aviva was to neutralise France and then secondary to that, maybe sneak a try if the option is there. We still haven’t seen the Ireland this team can become because we haven’t had to.
No coach will ever admit to having their sights set on a Grand Slam but whilst you’re unbeaten it is a possibility. Most, myself included, reckon we won’t have a Slam this year but if we do only England and Ireland remain in contention. As if their upcoming clash on March 1st needed more ramping up, it just got a whole lot more intense. It’s two from two folks, enjoy it.
Ireland 18 – 11 France
Image courtesy of thegatheringireland.com