This Halloween Ireland march over the a locked down Paris to take on the resurgent French with the whiff of a title in the air. A whiff which is slightly different to the smell we had over the last 14 months.
As I write this, only the irish team has been named but what are the expectations for Ireland this weekend. What is realistic and what is a dream. Which part is the heart and which is the head.
Lets start with the head to head. Which made surprising reading for me. Ireland have won 4 of the last 5 games, and the 1 loss was by 1 point. When you are of an age to remember the 80’s and the hammerings by blue shirts, this is a nice and positive stat to start with.
Then if you look at the last 5 games each side has played, taking COVID into account we have France with 2 wins, 1 loss and 2 called off. The opening rounds of the 6 Nations 2020 feel like years ago now, but in that time they have played Wales twice and Scotland. Neither team that would frighten a top5 ranked side at the moment. Wales are rebuilding and Scotland are hot and cold like me playing golf. France did look good against Wales last week (winning 38-21). But not invincilble. The incredible Dupont stole a lot of headlines and papered over some cracks. If we look at the numbers, the French monsters look human.
Ran 435 metres, had 52% territory for 53% possession, missed 10 of 117 tackles, and CONCEDED 16 penalties with a near 100% set piece.
If you look at that penalty stat that sticks out hugely. Ireland conceded 8 against Italy. Yes there is a difference in opposition but numbers are numbers.
Ireland ran for 160 more metres, had 50/50 for possession and territory, missed 12 of 145 tackles and again with a near 100% set piece.
France had 13 players in double figures for metres run against Wales, from all over the pitch. Ireland had 12 players in double figures, again from all over the pitch. With Keenan and Stockdale in the triple digits. The only issue with this is that you can see where the threats are coming from from Ireland. It is back row and backs from the green, whereas the threats are spread all over the pitch from France.
Now we start getting worried.
So what has to happen for Ireland to leave Paris with a win. I think that should be the aim, don’t worry about bonus points, get the win.
A big start is always needed, no relaxing your way into the game, start with a combative mind and really put the home side on their back foot. Send that early message to make the French retreat backwards as the French stereotype suggests they do. If Ireland can do that and move the ball well as was done in patches last weekend, there is a big chance of a win. There is no need to be scared of the big bad blue wolf.
France are in a similar position in terms of not having much to lose. In a rebuilding phase it is all about performance, gameplay and getting as many new players into the blue shirt as possible. They will be coming for the win, galvanised by last weekend, but they know the Irish defence will be waiting. They know that they can be scored on, will this affect their mentality especially if Ireland get the big start we want?
My heart and ¾ of my head says Ireland. But the French are galloping nicely.
Ireland have nothing to lose, the worry is, neither do France!
Bring on Halloween!