Peter Bills: Courage, self-belief will do just Grand for Ireland
It couldn’t have been better timed. France meets Ireland in a head-on, full bloodied clash of the Six Nations Championship today. And it’s St Valentine’s weekend in Paris, of all places. There’ll be plenty of red on show, alright. But not roses, just blood . . .
So what to expect? A St.Valentine’s Day massacre? Well, it won’t be for the faint hearted, that’s for sure.
Declan Kidney’s men must know this could be the weekend their 2010 Six Nations Championship fate is all but sealed. That might seem daft with matches against England, Wales and Scotland still to come.
But Paris is the key. It has to be the deciding game. If a victorious Ireland side throw their arms high into the air at the end of 80 fierce, frantically fought minutes at the Stade de France this evening, the holiest of Holy Grails, back-to-back Grand Slams will be in reach.
Sure, they still have to go to Twickenham at the end of this month. But win in Paris for only the second time in 37 years and Irish spirits will soar. If they can topple the French in their own back yard, they can surely take mediocre England at Twickenham. Why not?
And if Brian O’Driscoll’s men can repeat the feat of Willie John McBride and his mates in 1972 by winning their away games in Paris and London, they’ll be on the home straight for another Grand Slam. Only Wales and Scotland, both at Croke Park, would stand between them and the ultimate glory.
Not that any of that kind of talk will be passing Declan Kidney’s lips as he readies his men for this evening in freezing Paris. He has always preached the values of taking it one game at a time. And of course he’s right. But that needn’t stop us painting a picture of what could happen if Ireland can get past the French.
So how might they do it? What will be needed to halt the French juggernaut which began to rumble threateningly at times against Scotland at Murrayfield last Sunday?
The first thing is courage. Bucket loads of it. Ireland must be prepared to sacrifice their bodies like never before. They’ll have to hurl themselves at the French, accept the boots which hammer into their bodies like nails, at the breakdown. I’m willing to say here and now that if Ireland’s players don’t harry and hastle, chase and hunt every French player anywhere near the ball for the full 80 minutes, they’re likely to regret it.
Ease off, mentally or physically, even for just a moment against the French and they’ll punish you. Levels of concentration are going to have to be as high as a 747 cruising above. To have a chance, Ireland will need to be able to put ticks in all the following boxes:
Solid first-up tackling
Power and consistency at the set scrums
Accurate line-out throws
Pin-point deadly accurate kicking to touch by fly half Ronan O’Gara
100% accurate goal kicking by the Munster man. No chances of points must be wasted
A high level of competition for the loose ball at the breakdown
Defensive solidity around the fringes of ruck and maul
Vision and timing to unleash danger runners like Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls out wide
More adventure from full-back Rob Kearney in running some of the ball kicked to him
A brilliant performance from Brian O’Driscoll that sets the example to everyone
Bravery, utter commitment to the cause and dedication to the side plus a dash of adventure
See how easy it is to win in Paris? That’s why just two Irish teams, the class of 2000 and 1972, have beaten France in Paris in the last 57 years.
And even after all that, there is one further quality Ireland will need tonight. Without it, they might as well not even turn up. It is self belief. Down the years I have watched numerous Irish teams play in Paris and fail. Most have had some fine players, a few, very exceptional performers.
But you always sensed a hesitance, deep down a lack of genuine self belief that it was their time, their day to make history.
Will Brian O’Driscoll’s men truly believe at the Stade de France today? One thing’s for sure. If they don’t with a Grand Slam tucked under their arms and another within reach, they never will.