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Are you not entertained? Was the opening weekend of the 6 Nations not exciting enough? If not, then I think your excitement-o-meter might be slightly different to mine.
Concentrating on the match in Paris, Ireland went to take a win in a stadium that has been as difficult to take the points in as it is to get a decent parking spot at work on a Monday morning. At times it has been the gulf in class between the sides in years gone by; it has been pieces of magic from Brian O’Driscoll, French spite to win and last weekend, an Irish team showing that they are never out of the game. Similar to the Leinster side of this year. They never know when they are beaten.
The first warning of the day was the Joe Schmidt pre match interview on rte. He looked worried, he looked like he hadn’t slept all week and he looked like a coach knowing that it could go wrong for his team. History and results tell 1 story of how hard it is to win in Paris, sporting form and fixture results for Ireland told another.
Quick stat check and you can see France had to make over twice the amount of tackles than Ireland (253 to 113). They completed 94% of them which shows that the fitness of the French team was immense all the way through. Part of the expectation going in though that they would wilt, but they didn’t at any stage. Even after 41 phases at the end and well into the injury time. The home side scored the only try after a very slight drop in concentration made Thomas look better than he really is. It was 72 minutes and the home side where in front for the first time.
This was when everyone in the pub looked at each other. Some thought it was over, some thought we were ok with 8 minutes to go. For me, we were still in the game, still there to win it. Even after a missed kick on each side, Ireland would work their way back up the pitch and get into a position to take the game. The team went for it, they believed it and worked so massively hard for each other was fantastic to see. France where fairly epic in defence in the business end of the match, they were putting themselves on the line at the end to the point that when Ireland worked their way from their own 22 to just past the half way, a cross field kick to Earls was the only option and executed with surgeon like accuracy from J10. When that happens you know the drop goal is on, if the kick doesn’t come off the predators perfectly then he is affected for the soon to come drop goal attempt.
Most everyone thought that when the clock ticked to 80, Ireland would be out of sight. Or at least comfortable, the French stubbornness and fitness was what kept them there and 1 point ahead. For a neutral it would have been a great one to watch. It gives France a massive boost, injuries aside. The new 10 in Jalibert looked to be a great call too; he confused Ireland early on before injury and is a great call from their coach. Game time as the boss of the team and he will be handy in RWC2023.
Murray marshalled the battered pack around for 2 more attempts at gaining some metres and then pulled the trigger to Sexton 40+ metres out. As soon as it was struck everyone was in the air. It looked good and controlled early flight, dipped slightly but wasn’t overly spinning (my main memory of the Jones penalty in 2009 against Wales was how quick it spun), and it made it. Ireland left France with a 2 point win, probably deserved based on how the game went, but the France team that played and the way they played will be tough to beat.
So what do we learn about this win? Well firstly it begins a chance to erase the decades of losing in Paris, it shows that the team is never out of the game and the celebration showed how much the players are playing for each other. For me, the celebration was nearly more important than the win, it shows that they will leave absolutely everything on the pitch and work for each other until the end. We also learned that 21 year olds can slip into the second row and play like 50 cappers. Immense stuff from Ryan with 12 tackles in his debut. Only 1 lineout lost and 100% in the scrum shows how he was able to drop into the system with ease. Leavy too who came of for a flying JVDF. Hugely positive for the newer players and for the experienced troopers who can see that they can depend on newbies when the pressure is on.
All massively positive.
So now, what will Joe do against Italy? Will he make some changes (assuming it is on JVDF out from the squad)? Will he unleash Larmour? If so is it on the wing where he will be quieter? Or will he start him at 15? For me Larmour will be in a tracksuit on match day and come on at 15 when the points are on the board, give him 20 minutes in a go forward team to get confidence even higher. Porter may have to wait for the summer tour after the Healy McGrath axis of evil in that jersey against France.
It is a week of recovery and preparation for round 2. For all of us watching as well as the team.