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So here we go! The 6 Nations Championship kicks off this weekend. Ireland and France have announced their team. The media on both sides is trying to keep the supporters calm. One side saying ‘it’s not as bad as it looks’, the other saying ‘calm down calm down’
Ireland fly to Paris to take on a French side in transition. A side in heavy transition and a French rugby in upheaval. Between tax raids, homophobic slurs and a string of bad results, the home side need a performance this weekend. Their coach has decided to aim squarely at the RWC being held in France in 2023. Selecting a 19 year old at 10. Aside from my well documented criminal jealousy and hatred for any young sports professional, this is a key move by Brunel. By doing this he is releasing the pressure valve on the rest of the team. It is the built in excise for a hammering. The idea being that the squad can open up and go for the match. Losing 7-0 or 70-0 makes no difference if they team play and play well. It also gets Jalibert into international rugby ahead of schedule, thanks to injuries. The more time he has in the playmakers jersey the better it is for their RWC 2023 chances.
There is zero pressure on this French team. Their entire sporting media have already written them off. While this may be a hard thing for a professional player to hear, it is another pressure release for them. Another positive in a game where every positive counts.
We know the individual skill level of the home side will be high, the intensity will be high but the cohesion really shouldn’t be there after a couple of weeks with a new coach. The early fight should wilt much like me after 12 pints of Guinness.
Ireland on the other hand comes in like a hurricane. A team on form, with most of the players playing for winning provincial sides and with a smattering of new faces in the setup which is sure to reinvigorate any of the old guard.
Ireland goes to Paris as heavy favourites which is the first piece of pressure for them getting on the plane. For Ireland to compete at the top table and in the business end of any tournament this is a tag that they must get used to. There is nothing wrong with the favourites tag if you can handle the pressure. Sometimes Ireland have let that tag get to them, we only have to look back to the opening game of last year’s tournament. You can’t win it in week 1, but you can certainly lose it.
Looking at the squad everyone is there on form, which is important. It shows that while Joe may lean a certain way, he will pick the right player at the right time.
The front row looks as solid as we could hope for with massive competition in each jersey, while Cronin may have nailed his name to the late power sub mast, the other players are in contention for a start. The second row was the big call of the day; Devon Toner has been sat on the bench for James Ryan. Ryan is an absolute savage who has been playing amazingly well against top opposition. An important message to the squad, play well and you’ll be picked. Hendo may shepherd him early doors but once the butterflies settle, Ryan will be playing like a 50 capper. The second row is massively important to Ireland putting a score up. France will fight early hoping to find a hole and the green pack needs to be ready.
The back row is just rugby pornography! O’Mahony, JVDF and Stander are the envy of every other rugby nation on the planet. They are a mainstay of everyone’s fantasy rugby team and will deliver all day on Saturday.
Murray and Sexton tell their own story, another envy of world rugby and about as important as remembering to not buy bitcoin to the team.
Aki and Henshaw are monsters in the midfield; they have some sort of telekinetic telepathy going on and work together about as well as could be hoped. Big job on some big opposition beckons.
The back 3 of Stockdale, Earls and Kearney finish off the starting 15. Hard to argue with that selection, especially with Conway having a knee issue that is keeping him out of action for the first 2 weeks of competition. Stockdale has been playing well in a yo yo team, he was found out in the RDS but he was also put in positions that he won’t be put in while wearing green. Early tackling needed from him and the ever young Keith Earls. Earls finding form AGAIN, truly amazing to see him playing better now than when he started playing for Ireland in 1812.
Rob Kearney at 15, bound to cause some reaction, but there on form and ready to play. I want to see the shark eyes in him during the anthems, with the onslaught of talent vying for his jersey, he needs another big performance and he is rarely left wanting.
The substitutes look great too, Cronin, McGrath, Ryan, Toner, Leavy (savage), Luke McGrath, Carberry, McFadden.
This is about as close to 100% as a selection can get for this match. Very balanced, it is now about performing. If Ireland can put the foot down as Leinster have been doing this season and demoralise the French early, then the crowd will turn on their team and Ireland will turn on the points.
For me it is a 2 score win for Ireland and a marker being put down for the rest. 1 Game at a time, 1 play at a time.
My favourite sporting month of the year is about to begin! Can’t wait! Pass the Guinness!!
PS: Whoever allowed Rory Best and Henderson to be seen going to the Jackson / Olding court case should be fired. If no one in the union ok’d it then they both should have had better judgement than that. At best it is a bad decision, at worst it is an inadvertent case of witness intimidation.