31 October 2020 22:37
Ireland have it all to do in Paris this evening as they take on France in the last round of the Six Nations. In the last match on the last day, if Ireland walk away from Paris with a bonus-point win, they take the title. And while Paris wins are hard come by over the last 20 years, former Ireland scrum-half Eoin Reddan reckons Andy Farrell's side can do the business. 'It doesn't matter how high that mountain is, to have that feeling, that excitement for the next three or four hours where you know no matter what happens, you're going to have a shot at winning the Six Nations. "Players dream of these days where you wake up on the final day of the Six Nations and your destiny is in your own hands." Eoin Reddan gives Ireland a real shot of doing the business in Paris tonight.#FRAvIRE | #GuinnessSixNations | #VMTVRugby pic.twitter.com/0yiPCGLrDq — Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) October 31, 2020 For the Irish National team, today is one of those beautiful days.
The opportunity to win in Paris, with the Six Nations Championship up for grabs, is a privilege that any player would envy. Ireland must be wary of French scrumhalf Antoine Dupont. His rare talents are not limited to his ability to strike faster than a brown snake from the base of the rucks, or his creative running lines that see him score tries from supporting the line breaks of his outside backs. Dupont's passes enhance the French forwards' running game which creates the space for their creative backs. Ireland's primary defensive mission is to stop these French forwards from dominating the gain line.
Ireland must be the beast that looks into the French eyes and places the fear of failure, at the centre of their thoughts. He must create a match plan that will heap pressure on this callow French team. Anything less than a powerful, strategically excellent performance from Ireland will be punished by the creativity of Galthié and his young French team. Three key challenges facing Ireland in Paris For the last decade, French teams have performed in the Six Nations with one hand tied behind their backs. At long last the French Federation has given their players a top-class coaching team, under new head Fabien Galthié, to extract the very best from a cohort of young players that have won the last two U20 World Cups.
France struggled for long periods last weekend at the breakdown with their one Achilles heel, indiscipline, coming to the fore, conceding 16 penalties to four for Wales. The attacking threat they pose from turnovers, poor kicks and broken play is the biggest threat facing Ireland today. Warren Gatland's open plea during the week for Andy Farrell to be at his side once again as defensive coach when the Lions tour South Africa next summer will not have gone down well with French defense specialist Shaun Edwards. Edwards will be out to prove a point today and the structure, discipline and organisation he has brought to this French side in the championship to date have put them within striking distance of a first championship in a decade. That is why, having commended their new found consistency in selection since the World Cup, I was amazed with the decision to shift their defensive leader Gael Fickou from inside centre to the wing to cover for the loss of Teddy Thomas and introduce another 21 year old Arthur Vincent to partner Virimi Vakatawa in midfield. On the flip side, for Ireland to win today, they must not only replicate the aggressive defensive line speed that completely unnerved Italy in Dublin, they must keep the pressure on for 80 minutes. France faced a rehearsal in this department last weekend when the Welsh put them under severe pressure from the outset through the suffocating line speed that Edwards helped develop. Unusually for the French, they kept their patience, refused to panic and scored some brilliant tries off broken play instead. For Ireland to win, they may have to play more of a territorial game initially, frustrate the French, force them to taking unnecessary chances and making mistakes. While the IRFU's financial bods might not agree, you could argue that lockdown worked out rather well for Ireland - or at least for head coach Andy Farrell. Promoted from defence coach following Ireland's disappointing World Cup exit, Farrell spent the winter attempting to loosen the straitjacket for which Joe Schmidt was famed. Picking the same old players rather than looking to the future, appointing the ageing Johnny Sexton captain and pairing him with Conor Murray at half back, bringing in his old England colleague Mike Catt as attack coach. "Sorry Ireland toil in the heat as England run riot at Twickenham" wrote the Irish Times. Thanks to their bonus-point win against Italy last weekend, Ireland sit top of the Six Nations table by a point. A win against France in Paris could see Farrell's team clinch the title in his debut campaign. France look a different proposition under Fabien Galthie, Rafa Ibanez and Shaun Edwards. And while this Ireland team may not look radically different on paper - Sexton, now 35, continues at fly half, Cian Healy wins his 100th cap - a bit of distance from Japan helps. I look at the professional game of rugby union and ask is there an ounce of creativity in it? I watched Johnny Sexton's heroic 2018 drop-goal recently and I marvelled at such control and discipline at the very end of the game. A wet day in Paris and Ireland needing to get three points. Ireland, through a Sexton cross-kick to Keith Earls, took their only risk but that had to be done. Twenty phases is such hard work that you often have lost your shape after 10, and the reality is that you have to box-kick the ball away because you are knackered or another pod chugging the ball up will only encourage the defending team. It is a dreadful indictment on the game to see centres going into rucks to clear them out or attempting to roll a poacher off the ball. Twenty years from now, they will look back and laugh at the thought of players running as fast as they can into two or three defenders, clearing it out and going again etc. Could you imagine what Ireland could do if they had trained to play this way for the last year? Imagine if we had a team of Leone Nakarawas (a Fijian Fijian playing for Glasgow) and Virimi Vakatawa (a French Fijian playing for Racing 92 and France). What would Ireland do if we had that mode of player? The Welsh have gone backwards since Wayne Pivac took over and it has relevance for Ireland in how we finish the Championship. I suspect France, emboldened by their display against Wales, will get a bonus-point win against Ireland and chase down England's points total but fail narrowly. I also think Scotland, who lost narrowly to Ireland and England in February but beat France in Edinburgh, have a really good chance of beating Wales. That is never a motivation to throw the ball around - but if Ireland think they are going to Paris to try and win against a very confident and strategically competent side with a one-dimensional game, forget it! I looked at the French results over the last five years which are still relevant. France are not unbeatable in Paris but they do have a lot of things going for them. Antoine Dupont is the best scrum-half in the world and if Will Connors just spends his day marking this guy out of the game then that will be a worthwhile contribution. This is the first time Andy Farrell can make a definitive statement with his team. Ireland are not going to win the Championship but how they finish is entirely up to him by what type of game they play.