I am just going to say it, I have 6 Nations fatigue. The 2 gaps in the tournament kill the momentum and kill me emotionally and spiritually. So the big question coming into this weekend and the welcoming of an unchanged France team to the Aviva was, would Ireland be in the same position as I was?
The answer was, not for 65 minutes.
Starting with the score, it finished 26-14 to Ireland. A bonus point tucked into the pack pocket early in the second half a massive uplift on the last few weeks. Let’s look at stats.
Ireland ran for 383 metres compared to 138 for France (90% of which was in the second half), Ireland had 65% possession for 72% territory, Ireland made 79 of 105 tackles (a lot) to France 172 tackles of 205. Ireland conceded 7 penalties to Frances 12; Ireland lost 2 of 9 scrums and 1 of 18 lineouts. France lost 3 lineouts.
Now for the players:
Larmour ran 79 metres off 10 runs beating 8 defenders, Earls ran 51 off 5 runs beating 5 defenders, and Conan had 20 metres off 8 runs. In terms of defending, France where forced into making tackles everywhere, a good sign that Ireland are rolling as they should. Ireland had very few players with more than 3 missed tackles, only Ringrose sticks out at 6. France has 15 players missing tackles.
Ireland strangled France very well, Larmour misread under the high ball aside, for 55 minutes. A fantastic performance keeping France in their own 22 for nearly the entire half. The only worry is that the team had to get through a massive amount of work to score. Remembering there are 2 tried not given for Ireland and 1 try given to France where they can’t see the ball touch down, it shows that the scoreboard isn’t really reflective of the game.
But back to the output, this is the war of attrition that wares down the opposition but it also chips away at you. France where fit and there to make the tackles which is why Ireland didn’t have 40 points in the bag in the first half. Ireland can’t depend on that way of playing in a tournament situation. If we want to win the RWC we can’t expect the players to run 380 metres every game, especially when the turnaround between games gets smaller as the tournament goes on.
But back to Sunday.
The opening of the game showed the difference, before the whistle, when the anthems where playing the team looked ready, angry and hungry. The body language was totally different to recent time. The backs where against the wall in their mind, and in the minds of silly people with loud voices online (you know who you are). And they started like that. A passage of play finished with Larmour putting the boot on the ball over a flat French line and into their red zone, a spot they didn’t really leave for the first hour.
The points piled up with some really good play. Special mention to the Earls try. If you watch it back there are 4 decoy runners and the French are more confused than I was in maths paper 2. A variation on an old favourite and definitely well worth watching again and again. Sexton got on the score sheet with the old reliable wrap around. Again with added decoys, and enough confusion to have the French literally running into each other. The pack dominated, Henderson and Ryan where a wall and JVDF was operating well before being taken off for Conan who then wrote his name on the jersey with a great performance.
Basically Ireland dominated in every facet of the game.
And then the subs came on slightly earlier than planned. The right call (as always) from Joe as the BP was in the bag and adding minutes to people in the jersey is a great idea. After a strong start the team began to fade allowing France in for 2 tries. I say allow as they really should have been kept out. But after the workload they went through it was going to be hard to keep a clean sheet.
For me it was a really strong day at the office. How many times in history have Ireland gotten a bonus point against France / scored 20 + against France. This performance should have arrived against Scotland and Italy but it took a few extra weeks to find.
Moving on to Cardiff, injuries need to be kind for Ireland. Wales are on THE run of a lifetime. A great bet for the double this year, but Ireland has nothing to lose. If you are not winning the tournament it doesn’t matter if you finish second or third. So why not go for it. Get the heads right and Wales will be tested.
Ireland has work ons for the week ahead, Wales do to after misfiring last week. If Ireland can put the foot down early as they did against France, it might make the Welsh take a step back.