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This is the team Joe built... and it doesn't make pretty viewing

By George Hook

Published 15/02/2016

Early exit: Jonathan Sexton is taken from the field after a recurrence of a previous injury
Early exit: Jonathan Sexton is taken from the field after a recurrence of a previous injury

On Saturday in Paris, Ireland lost another match that they should have won and if Twickenham goes as expected, Joe Schmidt's team will be in a dog fight to avoid the wooden spoon.

The reasons for the failure are manifold depending on your perspective. The refereeing was average but not as bad as the home support would have us believe; the injury list before and during was horrendous; and the scrum imploded.

There is an alternative scenario. This team is incapable of converting territory and possession into points. In the two second halves against Wales and France, Ireland managed one penalty goal. In the two first halves, despite almost complete dominance, the team totted up 19 points.

When Warren Gatland criticised Ireland for being too narrow in the World Cup warm-up games, it was dismissed as mind games. The competition itself confirmed the accuracy of that assessment.

The reality is that Schmidt has delivered a conservative game plan with a group of regimented players and compounded the problem by abject selection.

Against the French, his team achieved not a single line break. The players, playing to instruction, offloaded just once. Schmidt's mantra is defence and concentration. Judged by that yardstick, the players in green missed 17 tackles and conceded 13 penalties.

Schmidt's tenure has been notable for the complete absence of analysis by the media. He has led a charmed life.

It has been forgotten that Michael Cheika handed him a winning team at Leinster and the work of Eddie O'Sullivan and Declan Kidney gave Ireland the winning habit, with three Triple Crowns and one Grand Slam.

The RWC and this year's Six Nations represent the team that Joe built and the results are there for all to see.

The comments from the analysts before the game about French coach Guy Noves were distinctly ageist. He was too old at 62, they opined. Incredibly, the man with the best rugby CV in all of Europe was dismissed.

France's wing Teddy Thomas (L) fights for the ball with Ireland's fullback Robbie Henshaw during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
France's wing Teddy Thomas (L) fights for the ball with Ireland's fullback Robbie Henshaw during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's fullback Robbie Henshaw (C) is tackled during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
France's fullback Maxime Medard (R) tackles Ireland's fullback Dave Kearney during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
France's fullback Maxime Medard (L) tackles Ireland's fullback Dave Kearney during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
France's fullback Maxime Medard (L) prepares to tackle Ireland's fullback Dave Kearney during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's fly-half Jonathan Sexton holds onto the ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Frances left wing Virimi Vakatawa (L) runs with the ball the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's flanker Sean O'Brien lies limps after a shock during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSOTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Frances flanker Wenceslas Lauret (L) vies with Ireland's centre Robbie Henshaw during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Frances fly half Jules Plisson kicks a penalty during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Jonathan Danty of France is tackled by Jonathan Sexton and Jared Payne of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Jonathan Danty of France is tackled by Jonathan Sexton and Jared Payne of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Uini Atonio of France is tackled by Robbie Henshaw and Mike McCarthy of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Virimi Vakatawa of France is tackled by Rory Best and Conor Murray of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Virimi Vakatawa of France is tackled by Rory Best and Conor Murray of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Ireland's centre Fergus McFadden (L) tackles Frances tight head prop Uini Atonio (C) during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's fly-half Jonathan Sexton (R) prepares to kick a penalty during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Frances lock Alexandre Flanquart (L) vies with Ireland's Tommy O'Donnell during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Frances lock Alexandre Flanquart (L) vies with Ireland's Tommy O'Donnell during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's centre Dave Kearney (C) is tackled by Frances hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Frances lock Alexandre Flanquart (R) vies with Ireland's lock Mike McCarthy during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
France's flanker Wenceslas Lauret (R) tackles Ireland's flanker CJ Stander during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Guilhem Guirado of France is challenged by Jared Payne of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Alexandre Flanquart of France is tackled by Tommy O'Donnell of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Joe Schmidt the head coach of Ireland looks on prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Teddy Thomas of France is tackled Dave Kearney and Jared Payne of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Ireland's centre Dave Kearney (L) and Ireland's wing Jared Payne (R) vies with France's Teddy Thomas during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's centre Dave Kearney (L) and Ireland's wing Jared Payne (R) vies with France's Teddy Thomas during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Frances flancker Yacouba Camara (C) vies with Ireland's flanker CJ Stander (R) during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Sean O'Brien of Ireland lies injured during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Sean O'Brien of Ireland leaves the field due to injury during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Devin Toner of Ireland wins lineout ball under pressure from Alexandre Flanquart of France during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
France's prop Uini Atonio (L) attempts to block a drop shot by Ireland's fly-half Jonathan Sexton during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016.THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's fly-half Jonathan Sexton (3rd L) makes his way during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's fly-half Jonathan Sexton (2nd L) is tackled by France's prop Uini Atonio during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016.THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's prop Nathan White (L), France's wing Teddy Thomas (C) and Ireland's fullback Jared Payne go for the ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's prop Nathan White (L), France's wing Teddy Thomas (C) and Ireland's fullback Jared Payne go for the ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's scrum half Conor Murray (C) passes the ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland on February 13, 2016 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFEFRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's flanker CJ Stander (C) warms up with his teammates prior to the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's flanker CJ Stander (C) warms up with his teammates prior to the Six Nations international rugby union match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on February 13, 2016.THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: Ireland fans enjoy the atmosphere prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: A general view of the stadium prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Ireland fans show their support outside the stadium before the 2016 RBS Six Nations match at Stade de France, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday February 13, 2016. See PA story RUGBYU France. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Ireland fans show their support outside the stadium before the 2016 RBS Six Nations match at Stade de France, Paris. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: A general view of the stadium prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
An Ireland fan shows his support outside the stadium before the 2016 RBS Six Nations match at Stade de France, Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday February 13, 2016. See PA story RUGBYU France. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Armed police patrol the concourse inside the stadium perimeter before the 2016 RBS Six Nations match at Stade de France, Paris. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.
Ireland fans enjoy the atmosphere prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 13: A general view of the stadium prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at the Stade de France on February 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

In truth he out-thought and out-selected Schmidt. In a selection master-stroke, he held back his frontline props until the second-half when they demolished the Irish scrum and contributed to his team having 60 per cent of the possession in the final 40 minutes.

It was a brave move and was predicated by his certainty that Ireland could not build a big lead. The post-match consensus was that France were poor. Perhaps; but they were better than their opponents.

They had a better game plan, a better coach and most of all a better scrum. For the game, there is a glaring problem that must be addressed. Saturday's game was an insult to entertainment and even if Ireland had managed to come up with a winning score, it would have done little to gloss over what was a spectacle based on brutality and attrition. Rugby is in danger of losing its audience.

Questions have to be asked about whether players are rushed back too soon after injury. Sean O'Brien and Jonathan Sexton left because of a recurrence of injuries previously incurred.

In front of a million people, for the second time in six days a young man on doctor's orders was forced to leave the field of play, with the same injury to the head/neck area.

The powers that be are in denial. Let us not also forget that this weekend international rugby was played by women and boys under 20.

Society has changed over the centuries. For the entertainment of the masses, gladiators no longer fight in arenas, bears are no longer baited and pit bulls no longer fight. I found it difficult to watch what the commentators loosely call the "physicality" of the game.

My mind wandered to a time a long way in the future when a relic of a stadium overrun with weeds in Lansdowne Road is a stop on the tourist trail, where the guide remarks, it is hard to believe, but young men used to beat each other up for the edification of a baying crowd.

Belfast Telegraph

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