Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Ireland's half measures have raised even more questions

Ireland players leave the Aviva Stadium pitch after Saturday's game against France knowing they had let victory slip

Last Saturday Ireland snatched a draw from the teeth of victory and in the process left supporters – and no doubt the players themselves – agonisingly disappointed for the third game on the trot.

In the past one of Ireland's key failings has been not pushing on in the second half to come away with sufficient points to close out the game.

They just about got away with it in Wales in the opening game, but last weekend France made them pay.

While it may not have felt like defeat for Ireland, there can be no doubt that France will have emerged from the Aviva Stadium the happier of the two sides.

It could – and should – have been a very different story.

The combination between the Irish tactics being absolutely right in the first half and the selection of Freddie Michalak in the No. 10 shirt for France made the prospect of victory more tantalising than ever.

Declan Kidney may be coming in for plenty of criticism, but if he was Philippe Saint-Andre, we would be calling for him to be hung, drawn and quartered never mind guillotined.

I know that Les Miserables has been the new spring fashion, but do France have to take it quite so seriously?

You need rugby's version of a Jean Valjean at No. 10, someone who inspires, a leader who brings out the best in those around him, someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck and direct play.

Those days are gone for Michalak and his continued kicking throughout the game was poor in its execution and spurned any chance of France actually playing their natural game.

When he took over the premiership of the French national side, Saint-Andre said that his number one aim was consistency.

Well, I suppose he has achieved this in sorts, but not quite the type of consistency that the French public crave – his time is surely limited.

In the opening 40 minutes, both sides' tactics were right, but Ireland delivered with greater execution, composure and control.

It was perfect wet weather rugby – dominating possession and territory, Conor Murray kept putting the ball in the air and together with Rob Kearney and BOD kept France on the back foot and invited them to counterattack.

Both new boys, Fergus McFadden and Maxime Medard, on opposing wings were targeted, but the former's chasing, competing, harrying and tackling gave him a noticeable competitive edge.

It was a day not to have the ball, ergo a requirement for the simplest of game plans, and it was working until Ireland started playing too much rugby and making mistakes.

Furthermore, within such tactics there has to be flexibility so that when you do get a chance you have got to take it.

Such an opportunity presented itself early in the second half.

In the 15th minute after two quick freekicks took Ireland deep into enemy territory the ball was recycled.

Without noticing the overlap of players outside him, Jamie Heaslip took the ball back into contact.

It was a chance gone – Ireland's default position was to seek contact rather than retain the flexibility to entertain ideas and imagination.

Forget the last 10 minutes, for me Ireland lost the advantage in the third quarter – 56 per cent possession and 63 per cent of the time spent in France's half should have harvested points of some kind.

Put France under enough pressure, stay composed, and they will lose their discipline.

At the very least penalty opportunities should have been created and harvested.

It has been said before – France are a funny bunch, but they really are.

Starting and finishing with Michalak as placekicker with a bit of Parra in between was slightly baffling, as was the last play of the game.

Why oh why kick the ball away? Yet, Ireland should also have had their chance.

How did TMO Nigel Whitehouse not think there was some form of technical foul to take out a chasing Keith Earls?

It was not a shoulder charge, it was foul play and Paddy Jackson should have at least had a chance for a pot at goal.

• the end, maybe it was the fairest result with neither team nor coach coming out covered in glory.

No points in the second half means that the questions remain and the pressure increases.

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