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Rugby World Cup: Willie Anderson - I can't wait to find out what Joe Schmidt has up his sleeve

By Willie Anderson

Published 09/10/2015

France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre
France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre

A lot has changed in the game since my day and the state of French rugby is certainly chief among them.

I remember playing against the likes of Serge Blanco back in the 1980s when they seemed capable of running the ball from anywhere.

The two teams were worlds apart sometimes ... especially when the squads would be out afterwards on the Champs Elysee.

I don't know what people thought when they saw a group that was half suave Frenchman in their leather jackets and half men who looked like they'd only crawled out of the bog that morning.

It was a time when Irish teams would meet the French in hope rather than expectation and if they were clicking then it could be a long day.

If you weren't at your best you'd be spending a lot of time stood underneath your own posts.

Going on recent results and form, though, that fear factor just isn't there anymore.

The gap between the players' fitness has been bridged and I would even say it's somewhere Ireland have the upper hand now.

For someone who played with such flair, I think it's sad to see the way Philippe Saint-Andre has taken the team.

The movement, taking advantage of space, just isn't there.

Ireland have been preparing for this game since the draw was made, even before Joe Schmidt took charge, and I think we'll see the benefit of that come Sunday.

It's almost been a non-event for the side so far, even against Italy I never thought they'd let the game slip, but that will all change this weekend.

Whatever Schmidt has been keeping up his sleeve, I can't wait to see it.

In terms of selection, I don't think there'll be too many changes from the Canada and Italy games.

For me, Cian Healy should come into the front-row, his carrying gives you something extra and France will target the scrum, but the rest of the pack will be unchanged.

The return of Jared Payne will be important too.

He and Robbie Henshaw have been the men in midfield for Schmidt since Brian O'Driscoll retired and that partnership will be important against France.

The ball might not be moved too much further out but Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud are big players for them.

Rob Kearney is another who walks straight back into that team and that leaves Keith Earls, Dave Kearney and Tommy Bowe fighting it out to be on the wings.

I'd have Tommy in there. He may not be in his Lions form but he's certainly getting that sharpness back and his ability in the air is important.

We'll soon see though...the four year wait is almost over.

Watching Australia against England, I got the impression that the Wallabies would have beaten anybody that night but I was still gobsmacked by the hosts.

There was no innovation whatsoever and, just by looking at the opposition, you could see how dangerous a side can be when their practiced backline moves come off.

To get beaten so badly at the breakdown, where Michael Hooper and David Pocock were outstanding, it beggars belief that Steffon Armitage was sat watching at home. Off the pitch, they just don't seem to have landed on the right dynamic.

There's a lack of real leadership there and I just don't know if it's practical to have a father having such a big say in selection.

Was Owen Farrell ever going to come off the pitch? It didn't look like it.

The big game on Sunday is being billed as a chance to avoid New Zealand but what about Argentina?

I understand the fear of facing the All Blacks, and there's no doubt who I'd rather play, but Argentina are a side who have really impressed me so far in this tournament.

They've flown under the radar a bit but they've been outstanding.

There are some flaws there, and we even saw that against Tonga, but they've got a great backline and some serious operators in that scrum.

Playing in the Rugby Championship, and with a Super Rugby side to come, they're really coming on and whoever does play them in the last eight it certainly won't be a walkover.

Belfast Telegraph

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