Turbulent performance played right into the hands of French
In Ireland’s heavy defeat against France on Saturday, it may be stating the obvious, but something went seriously wrong. It wasn’t the rugby itself, although there were precious little scoring opportunities created by Ireland.
Rather, it was the lack of composure and concentration from players who have been there, done that and got the Magners, Heineken and Grand Slam t-shirts.
When asked about Ireland’s chances prior to the game, my standard reply was that if it was tight at half-time Ireland would have a chance — they couldn’t afford to let France build up a head of steam in the opening 40 minutes.
What happened, however, was a classic tale of France against Ireland in the Six Nations in Paris. If you give France a sniff, not only do they take it, but all of a sudden you feel like you have been cast into a maelstrom, from which it is impossible to escape. What will be hard for the Irish players to stomach, when they watch the video nasty, is that on this occasion the answer will be staring them in the face. It lies in the 10 minute sinbin and Jerry Flannery’s mindless challenge, which overturned a penalty decision in France’s favour.
It is impossible to damn Cian Healy for his attempt to halt the French attack. I do not know a rugby player who at some stage in his career has not tried the same. It is one of those offences which is clearly a professional foul — you try to interfere with the opponent’s catching arm just before the ball hits him — but on most occasions you get away with it. However, it is testament to the excellent refereeing of Wayne Barnes and his supporting cast that they picked it up. The sinbin did hand the initiative to France, after it looked as if Declan Kidney had got it completely right with Ireland playing so positively in the opening 15 minutes.
In itself, though, it was not responsible for what happened next. It was the lack of composure that really hurt Ireland.
With 14 men, you need to batten down the hatches, play as little rugby as possible in your own half, and when it makes sense, keep hold of the ball.
Instead, Jerry Flannery’s boot handed possession, territory and an attacking position straight into France’s hands. Once down in Ireland’s 22, there was an air of inevitability that points would come. Cue the maelstrom. In chasing their opponents, there are a host of other issues that Declan Kidney will have to address before Ireland travel to Twickenham, but in the context of the game, it was Flannery’s kick that did all the damage.
I have no doubt that the citing commissioners will be in touch, and as he constructs his defence, it will be interesting to hear what was going through the Ireland hooker’s mind.
In all probability, given the superiority of France in the tight physical exchanges, there was only going to be one winner. Mentally, as well though, France always had the edge.
One moment on the cusp of half-time stood out as a clear example of this. The first half job had already been done, the ball had been kicked into France’s 22 but fullback, Clement Poitrenaud, had only had one thing on his mind — attack. Rather than taking the easy option of kicking the ball directly into touch, the French player ran the ball back out of defence brilliantly full of menacing intent and ambition. This summed up the French on Saturday. When you mix huge physicality, an organised destructive defensive and an unquenchable thirst to attack, it results in a cocktail with a kick.
That is how the French play their best rugby, but the most disappointing aspect is that Ireland played into their hands.