Six Nations France v Ireland: Girvan claims Les Blues are mentally weak as Picamoles bows out
A six-day turnaround in international rugby is tough at the best of times but after a bruising encounter with a hugely physical Wales side, a trip to Paris wouldn’t be high on the list of preferred next destinations.
Home advantage as well as an extra day’s rest could well be crucial for Guy Noves’ new-look France but they are still extremely vulnerable — especially after the loss of the immense figure of Louis Picamoles, upon whose broad shoulders had rested much of the on-field responsibility entering this new, uncertain era.
Not only will he miss this weekend’s Ireland clash but the entire Championship, too.
Throughout his 10-year international career, Girvan Dempsey was involved in enough games against France to know the scale of the challenge that faces Joe Schmidt’s side on Saturday but it’s not one that they will fear.
Italy exposed plenty of weaknesses last weekend, while Ireland’s win over France at the World Cup will still be fresh in the memory.
Dempsey doesn’t believe that France have changed drastically under Noves and he expects Ireland to be able to capitalise on their weaknesses more than Italy did.
“I think so,” Dempsey replied when asked if France were still mentally fragile. “They’re still a very new squad. They’re still gelling. They’ll improve. I still think there are a lot of weaknesses that can be exposed.
“The Italians were excellent at what they did. A bit more composure and they could have won that game. France, no doubt, will improve this week and they have that extra day in terms of recovery.
“It is going to be a big challenge for Ireland to try and get that recovery and get guys back on their feet, up to speed and back on the field as quickly as possible. It (Stade de France) is an incredible stadium.
“It has always been the case over the years that if you can get off to a good start and don’t allow France get off to a good start, you’re halfway to winning the game.
“If the French get their tails up, once they get a lead, it’s always hard to claw it back in Paris.”
For Fergus McFadden, a player who was on Ireland’s standby list for the World Cup, being forced to again watch from the periphery has been tough but he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of getting back into Schmidt’s plans before the end of the tournament.
McFadden last played for Ireland in the World Cup warm-up win in Wales and a recent three-week ban for stamping didn’t help his case for inclusion in the 35-man squad.
“I was happy with my form leading up to my ban,” McFadden maintained. “I had a nice run of games and it was just unfortunate timing for me coming into some important games for Leinster and probably an important block for guys who were going to get picked for the Six Nations as well.
“Leading up to that I was pretty happy so it’s just about getting more game time during this period and try get a bit of momentum back personally.
“He (Schmidt) just said that I wasn’t picked for the first two weeks. This is the second week of it now. After this week, we’ll see what happens.
“I hope the lads go great with Ireland but at the moment when I’m back here with Leinster, all I’m worried about is putting ourselves in a position pick up as many points as possible.
“I’m one of the more experienced guys during these stints. Anything that I can add, that’s basically what I‘m looking to do. When you’re back with your club, you’re just trying to put your best foot forward.
“If that has a knock on effect and you end up getting picked for Ireland on the back of it, then great.”
The win over Italy was enough to show Noves all the work that needs to be done.
“I do not even have the time to be satisfied or frustrated,” he groans. “Does the match give me satisfaction or frustration? Neither. Satisfaction, this often results in lethargy.
“We had the experience of losing. Then we go ahead but we can still lose in the end. But there is no satisfaction or frustration. I have work to do on a lot of areas in which we will have to redouble our efforts.
“I head back to the grindstone and with the staff, our only desire is to get our messages across. We will work, that is all that concerns me.
“Sometimes the desire to play was excessive. We must have intelligent concept of risk-taking.
“But still, our enthusiasm was a big positive. We had talked about taking initiatives, there was an opportunity to score three points in the first half but the quick tap Gael Fickou took resulted in a try.
“It felt like, with this low tempo, the boys wanted to let loose and play a faster game, which had been our message during the week. Each time we did that, we were dangerous.”