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Six Nations France v Ireland: Joe Schmidt wants a clinical edge

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Over the course of Joe Schmidt's 28 games in charge, Ireland have let a lead of 13 or more points slip three times.

The first was that fateful afternoon in 2013 when the All Blacks hauled in a 19-point head start and claimed a famous win with the last kick of the game; the second came a year later when Australia came from 17 points down to level only for Jonathan Sexton to kick Ireland to victory.

On Sunday, Wales found themselves in the kind of hole that most teams visiting the Aviva during the Kiwi's time in charge don't get out of.

The two best teams in the world had been able to arrest Ireland's early momentum in Dublin, but everyone else succumbed when the Six Nations champions got a head start.

Schmidt was upbeat after the game, but beneath the positivity he would have been annoyed with his side's slop­piness during the last 12 minutes of the first-half.

Wales were always going to have a purple patch, but the ease with which they were able to score their 10 points will grate with the coach.

A review of the tape shows key moments in the build-up that will frustrate Schmidt who will wonder how Ireland botched two exits from their own '22' in succession.

One wonders whether last year's Ireland would have let them back into it, but Schmidt can't dwell on that.

Certainly, there were worrying signs that the defensive issues ex­posed so ruthlessly by Argentina in October are still present and the head coach conced­ed that there remains work to be done.

"We can't afford to be quite so narrow defensively against France," Schmidt said. "You can get away with that against Wales, but it's a risk against the French. The width they played with was impressive.

"You're just going to have to be care­ful whatever you do, because they're audacious in what they're looking to deliver and if they make it work, they could run up a big score in a hurry.

"We have to make sure we are very clinical with the ball and not allow them too many opportunities."

For all the criticism over a perceived lack of style to Ireland's attacking game-plan, there was much to admire about the men in green with ball in hand on Sunday.

As with the World Cup, they tried to run rather than kick and, while offloads remained rare, there were cleverly worked moves, clean breaks and defenders beaten.

The problem, and it's been a recurring one during the last few seasons, was that the more phases Ireland went through the less chance they had of scoring.

They didn't score between the 28th and 74th minutes and when they did, it was Sexton's kick to draw level. Like the defeat in Cardiff last season, they had chances and let them slide and must work on their composure.

Ulsterman Andrew Trimble said: "We pride ourselves on being a side that once we get our foot on the throat we finish teams and we can't let up.

"That was a really good opportunity to really turn the screw on them and put them under a lot of pressure but this Welsh side don't go out the gate like that.

"They have a lot of character and they got back into it and put us under a lot of pressure. They put themselves in a position to win the game but we showed enough character to come back."

For all that Ireland fronted up and performed well for most of the match, they will worry about their ability to win the collisions against a mammoth French side this weekend; even without Louis Picamoles, whose Six Nations is over.

There are fears over Ireland's tight-five's capacity to physically dominate defences, while the scrum woes will need major surgery in the next week because for all the flux about Les Bleus, the one thing they still bring is tight-five power.

Jack McGrath can be absolved from any criticism after a mammoth 80 minutes, but Schmidt's decision to leave James Cronin in the stands for the duration despite the six-day turnaround told its own story about his fears over strength in depth.

Rory Best was a machine at ruck-time and Devin Toner had a fine game for the mostpart, but both were guilty of missing or soaking tackles at vital stages, while Nathan White and Mike McCarthy looked out of their depth at times.

Schmidt will freshen up his pack this week and has the luxury of calling up Sean O'Brien, presuming he comes through training today unscathed. The prospect of the Tullow Tank and CJ Stander combining is one that will frighten opponents.

With all of the names missing from the team-sheet, a draw was a good result and the performance was encouraging; but Schmidt will want his new breed to learn from this positive experience.

Belfast Telegraph


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