The good and the bad from Ireland's 2017 Six Nations win over France in Dublin
Ireland put together back-to-back wins to maintain their Six Nations title bid, with Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton pulling the strings for the men in green. France started strongly and took a 6-0 lead but Ireland gained control midway through the first half and maintained it for much of the remainder of the game. They even denied the French a losing bonus point with a late penalty. Ireland will now head to Cardiff to play Wales with confidence – but before that, here’s our verdict on the match…
King Conor – Conor Murray was lauded across the world following his performance in Ireland’s win over New Zealand last year. His form in the first two rounds of the Six Nations was not at the same level but he showed against France why he is the favourite to wear the Lions No 9 shirt this summer. His game management was superb – box-kicking to relieve the pressure and producing accurate touch finders as well as delivering quick ball to his back-line. Whether the return of Johnny Sexton at ten had any affect on his display it’s hard to know, but Warren Gatland will no doubt have been pleased to see this Man of the Match performance.
Loop the loop – The loop is one of the first moves you learn in rugby but it’s something you don’t see so often at the very top end of the modern game. Ireland used it to good effect against France, though. Johnny Sexton was creating space in the wider channels with a short pass to a team-mate and then collecting the return pass further out. He mixed up his game well with passes short and long as well as neat dinks behind; there was even a quick tap penalty and a drop-goal – you wouldn’t know he’d been out injured for a few weeks.
And that was not the only way Ireland tested France’s defence. Yes, the likes of CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien made trademark surges but it was backs like Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney hitting the line late and at sharp angles that caused the most damage, their arrival at pace often catching the French by surprise.
Double act – Baptiste Serin is a relatively new arrival on the Test scene while Camille Lopez has been criticised in the past for his inconsistency, but the two half-backs are starting to form a very effective partnership for France. They weren’t equal to the excellence of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton but they are certainly an improvement on what France have produced in recent years.
Serin adds plenty of tempo – something les Bleus have been lacking in recent years – with his speed of pass and sniping runs. Lopez, meanwhile, is balancing his game well, putting in territory-gaining kicks and slotting goals when called upon but also picking the right time to release those outside him. It was just a shame they couldn’t keep it up for the whole match. The key is for Guy Noves to resist making changes and stick with this pairing so they can continue to build.
Small but mighty – Mention must go to the two mascots who stood alongside Ireland captain Rory Best for the anthems. They belted out the words with as much aplomb as the players. Bravo!
Pressure, not points – Ireland had four kickable penalties in the first half but opted to kick none of them towards the posts. Okay, one resulted in Conor Murray’s try – the call for a five-metre scrum paying off when the No 9 got over the line. But the occasions they decided to go for the corner and back their lineout drive did not bear fruit.
Once they knocked on and France got a penalty from the resulting scrum. On another occasion the French drove them back and won the turnover. We know Ireland have a strong mauling game, but in the first half of a tight Test match, are points on the board not more important? For all the pressure and possession they had in the second quarter, they had only seven points to show for it.
Interestingly, in the second half they generally kicked their goals. Captain Rory Best said the change in tack was down to the fact the kicks were from easier positions, in front of the posts, and it didn’t cost them a victory in this match – but it will be interesting to see what strategy they employ against Wales, who have also been turning down kicks at goal in this championship.
French inconsistency – France started this game at full throttle, attacking from deep and putting pressure on in the Irish 22. They even made it across the whitewash, only for a knock-on to be spotted in the build-up and the try ruled out by the TMO, and they did notch six points through two Camille Lopez penalties. Yet they then drifted out of the game, not really venturing into Ireland’s 22 in the middle half and not putting a point on the board for 57 minutes.
They have shown signs of escaping the malaise that has affected French rugby in recent years but if they are to start challenging for the title again they need to be performing consistently and maintaining intensity for 80 minutes, not playing in patches here and there and losing their structure.
Battle for 2023 – The pre-match ‘entertainment’ involved the screening of Ireland’s video for their 2023 World Cup campaign and they also had a huge banner on the pitch during the anthems to promote their bid to host the tournament. France took a different approach and emblazoned their campaign logo on the players’ match shirts as they are also in the race to host RWC 2023.
23 – Carries made by CJ Stander, ten more than the top Frenchmen, Gael Fickou and Louis Picamoles both with 13.
18 – Tackles made by Kevin Gourdon, more than any other player.
8 – Line breaks made by France, double the number made by Ireland. Yet Ireland beat more defenders, 16 to 14.
9 – Turnovers made by France compared to four by Ireland.
68% – Territory Ireland enjoyed, along with 64% possession.
Ireland: R Kearney (A Trimble 51); K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (P Jackson 69), C Murray (K Marmion 78); J McGrath (C Healy 60), R Best (capt, N Scannell 68), T Furlong (J Ryan 74), D Ryan (I Henderson 60), D Toner, CJ Stander, S O’Brien (P O’Mahony 68), J Heaslip.
Try: Murray. Con: Sexton. Pens: Sexton 2, Jackson. DG: Sexton.
France: S Spedding (D Camara 74); Y Huget, R Lamerat (H Chavancy 60), G Fickou, N Nakaitaci; C Lopez; B Serin (M Machenaud 62); C Baille (U Atonio 51), G Guirado (capt, C Tolofua 62), R Slimani (E Ben Arous 51), S Vahaamahina (J Le Devedec 51), Y Maestri, B le Roux (C Ollivon 60), K Gourdon, L Picamoles.
Pens: Lopez 3.
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