Tyrone Howe: Paris match will provide different test for Kidney
Ancient history alleges that a conquering Julius Caesar entered Rome in triumph with the emblazoned words, ‘veni, vidi, vici’, as part of his procession. Of course, we have all been brought up to know that famous slogan as: ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’.
However, if Croke Park last Saturday was anything to go by it might well be another 2000 years before there’s any danger of history repeating itself.
The biggest challenge for Italy this Sunday is to regain the respect of Six Nations’ rugby supporters.
They face probably the happiest team from last weekend, England, who suddenly have put themselves forward as fairly respectable dark horses for the tournament. Despite the barmy yellow card conceded by Alun-Wyn Jones, Wales could have easily got something from the game, but the margin between a try-scoring opportunity and an intercept pass can sometimes be so slim that a passage of play can turn into an all-or-nothing scenario.
Nevertheless, I expect Wales to overcome Scotland and then to prove a tough nut to crack at home against France.
Marc Lievremont’s men are undoubtedly in the box-seat and displayed a powerful workmanlike approach to gain a vital away victory at Murrayfield. We may still be over a month away from the final weekend of the tournament, but for Irish supporters, this could very much represent ‘Le Crunch’ of our Six Nations.
We were all excitedly anticipating Declan Kidney’s selection and as I expected, he has plumped for experience.
I am pleased to see that Leo Cullen has an opportunity on the really big stage and he will in no way let Ireland down, although the fact that Donncha O’Callaghan is also missing from the bench suggests that injury is playing its part.
The two biggest areas of debate were over the 10 spot and wing position.
Ronan O’Gara played sufficiently well last week to merit being retained. Crucially, his place-kicking was flawless, and Ireland will have to take every opportunity if they are to leave the Stade de France as victors.
His confidence has returned and he has been in this sort of situation many times before.
If in doubt, the Ireland coach will always go with what he knows.
The same applies to the wing position. While there is little to choose between Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls, experience is the differentiator.
The Ulsterman had a tough time in this fixture two years ago, while Earls can draw on his European sojourns with Munster, most recently in Perpignan, and his Lions adventures.
The Munster player is the more natural ball-player and there will be all sorts of challenges on Saturday, not just a physical one.
Unlike Kidney, the French coach has not been known for his consistency in selection in the past.
Despite a few injuries of his own, what is remarkable is that Lievremont’s original 23 man selection was a repeat of the victory over Scotland.
After a lot of chopping and changing this French team looks as if it is beginning to settle and that could be ominous for Ireland.
For the first time in quite a while, Ireland enter a Six Nations game as underdogs. This does not mean that our boys should have any less self-belief. The best rugby that I can remember Ireland playing in recent times was in this fixture last year at Croke Park.
They beat France by enormous defensive intensity accompanied by excellent discipline and a drive to express their skills — when they got a chance the execution was lethal. There was no inhibition, only self-belief that they could produce high-quality rugby.
It will be an enormous physical battle.
While the front row performed well against Italy, this is a test on a completely different level. It starts with the scrum, and if Ireland can achieve something near parity in the set-piece, then they have huge experience in ROG and seasoned strike-runners outside, who can do damage if given some space.
It could be a match to savour which is exactly what we need after last week.