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Ireland must think outside '22'

Slow starts and one-dimensional play in the red-zone must be addressed if we are to taste Six Nations glory

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

It was instructive that at the end of both halves on Saturday, Ireland kept playing long after the clock went red. They wanted more from this game and they will be frustrated that they didn't get it.

Yes, this was a record Six Nations winning margin over France and, yes, the defence managed to shut out Les Bleus, but perhaps the visiting coach Guy Noves summed things up best when he said: "In the end we were beaten by a superior team."

According to the World Rugby rankings, only the champions England are better than Ireland right now and this 10-point win largely reflected both sides' place in the greater scheme of things.

However, there will be concern within the Irish camp about their second slow start in three games.

They were blessed to be just 6-0 down and with a full complement of players after a couple of cynical interventions in the first 20 minutes.

Their ball control in contact was poor, while their attacking play - bar one or two moments from Garry Ringrose - lacked the ability to penetrate the line.

The Television Match Official correctly denied France a try, while the visitors threatened to cause major problems with their width.

Ireland, though, responded. Their dominant maul and superior half-backs won them a tough game in difficult conditions, but we won't know whether it was by enough for a few weeks yet.

Conor Murray's try got them back on track and Johnny Sexton guided them home, but while they'll take the win and move on, they will also lament missed opportunities. Ireland's leadership corps seemed fully aware of the bigger picture and looked intent on securing a bonus point during the first-half, when they turned down shots at goal to go for tries. That they didn't get them was down to the lack of accuracy in the '22' that has so often hampered them under Schmidt.

After half-time they switched tack and focused on securing the result through the boot of Sexton, as conditions worsened. Attacking in the '22' is, modern coaches argue, the most difficult place to make a break because all of the opposition defenders are in the line, but it doesn't seem to bother Scotland, who are showing Ireland the way in this department.

Schmidt lamented that his team were unable to play off scrum ball and complained about the disruption at the breakdown - two things they can expect again next time out.

On Friday week, Ireland go back to Cardiff, where two years ago a slow start and a lack of attacking incision cost them a Grand Slam. Speaking on RTE, former Ireland winger Shane Horgan summed up the frustration with Ireland's lack of penetration and seeming over-reliance with one-out runners.

"When they got down into the '22', which is a consistent problem with this Irish team, they were so one-dimensional. I know the ball was slippy, I know it's difficult to execute skill, but there were moments when they had men over and they didn't move the ball to that space," said Horgan.

While his fellow panellist Ronan O'Gara's views fell more into line with Joe Schmidt's on the topic, the point still stood.

If Ireland want to win this Six Nations and push on to become a better team, they need to improve their scoring rate when they get into the opposition red-zone.

The head coach recognises the need to entertain in the results business and felt his team had tried to do just that in the face of French resistance.

"I like to think it is a mix of both," Schmidt said.

"I think we actually showed some endeavour today. A couple of line-breaks were on the back of some pretty good interplay and in conditions like that it is hard to do, particularly with the high pressure defence that the French have. I think it is very hard.

"There is evidence of that based on Scotland, who got a bit of a fortuitous try with Tim Swinson getting away and England had to work incredibly hard to get a score against them. So on the back of that, even going further back to November, when teams have had the ball in play and actually tried to compete with the French, they have been very hard to break down.

"Some of what we had planned today was harder to implement, obviously because of the conditions.

While there was no doubt about how well Sexton played, it was interesting that Robbie Henshaw pointed to issues with the re-adjustment from playing with Paddy Jackson.

"In the first-half we got a bit out of shape at times, it was a bit frantic and we got out of our system. In the second-half, we cleaned it up well and we got some good space in behind," the centre said.

"Conor (Murray) and Johnny led that. It's great to have Johnny back and the two of them were singing off the same hymn sheet. There was no doubt that he'd always perform in green. I think Johnny likes to get a second touch on the ball in first-phase attack. It was a play we looked at during the week, but we didn't look at it too much because the conditions during the week were pretty atrocious to train in."

For all the fun in the Roman sun, the defeat to Scotland lingered in Irish minds. This should have been step two on a journey towards a Grand Slam and the fact that it's not devalued the record points total and everything that came with it.

It was instructive that Joe Schmidt kept Conor Murray on for so long despite the need for Kieran Marmion to

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