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Six Nations: We need to shut France out, says O’Brien

By Niall Crozier

Sean O’Brien has never played at Stade de France.

The Irish openside was there two years ago as a replacement, but on that occasion he was not called upon to strip off.

Instead he watched helplessly as France continued to do what they tend to do against Irish sides in Paris — win handsomely.

Ireland went there in February 2010 as defending champions having won the previous season’s Grand Slam. They departed with their tail between their legs, however, after losing 33-10, their first defeat since November 2008.

Asked what he thinks Ireland must do in order to avoid more of the same at the hands of the French he replies: “I think we can go a little bit harder at the ruck and improve that area a little bit more. And there were a couple of little things in our defence against Italy that weren’t up to scratch so we’ve worked on those this week, too.

“Those two things will be a big part of it,” he adds, ‘it’ being Ireland’s strategy in trying to ensure there is no sixth successive RBS 6 Nations defeat in Paris.

Ireland know their supporters will be vastly outnumbered in the intimidating 80,000-capacity dome which is Stade de France.

“Whatever (Irish) support is there I’m sure we’ll hear them. It’ll be a full house and I’m sure the French crowd will be right behind their boys so it’ll be a good atmosphere,” is O’Brien’s expectation., but we won’t really be thinking about that. We have to get on with our job on the field and do what we can do.”

In attempting to deny France go-forward ball and opportunities to break, line speed is going to be all-important. In that respect Ireland were more impressive against Italy than had been case against Wales.

Now O’Brien believes they must step it up even further — whilst being smart about it.

“We need to get off the line a little more at certain times, I suppose. But it’s choosing the right time to do it,” he admits.

“The French are unpredictable and they love the off-load game as well, so we’ll have to pick and choose our times to take that space away from them and not let them get into that flow that they love. That will be a big thing.”

He knows, too, that France’s stand-off, Francois Trinh-Duc, must not be permitted to boss the game. Having faced him in the Heineken Cup the Leinster ace also knows how the number 10 will attempt to do that.

“He’s a big lad (6ft 1in, 14st 6lbs) but I don’t think there’s any point in over-analysing him. We’ve seen him a couple of times this year and we know what he’s capable of. We just have to shut him down,” is O’Brien’s matter-of-fact summary of the job at hand.

Asked how that can be done most effectively, he offers: “Put him under pressure and keep him under pressure when he’s on the front foot.

“He’s a great player who’s able to find space very easily and put people through holes, but it’s a different story when there’s a bit of pressure on him.

“And I think we can get stuck into him.

“I think we have to be careful and not be rushing up on him.

“We have to stay together and defend against him as one.”

“He does put in a few grubbers and he does use the chip a good bit so they’ll be things we’ll have to keep an eye on,” O’Brien warns.

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