ONE OF THE chief reasons attached to Ireland’s defeat to England at Twickenham last month was the below-par kicking game from the back division.
That facet of the game was not much of a factor in the win over Italy when Ireland controlled almost 75% of possession, but this weekend – on Joe Schmidt’s second away Test at international level – it will once again come in for severe scrutiny.
The Aviva Stadium had barely emptied after its big Brian O’Driscoll tribute party last Saturday when Schmidt turned his attention to Brice Dulin. And after a week of preparation for a team who defy analysis, Les Bleus’ back three still weighs heavy on the Kiwi’s mind.
“Inevitably you try to second guess what your opponents are going to bring so you’re a little better prepared; so that what you see on the field is what you expected and therefore you’re organised to combat it. That’s a difficulty coming into this French game.
“Even with the individual talent they have…. Dulin has a nice long left foot, but if you try to chase the charge-down, he’ll step off his left and his acceleration is such that he’s through the line very quickly and you’re chasing your tail.
“When you mix in [Yoann] Huget and [Maxine] Medard back there, it’s the same sort of thing.”
Despite the area being outside his own area of expertise, Schmidt’s captain was singing from the same hymn sheet.
“When you play France, kick chase is one of the most important parts of the game; chasing as a group with the right spacing, with the right pace,” says Paul O’Connell.
“If our kick chase isn’t wide, aggressive, isn’t far down the pitch we’ll be in trouble. They do incredible damage off counter attack.”
Closer in to O’Connell’s own remit is the tackle area, and just as Schmidt will demand that his backs don’t kick loosely to Medard, Huget and Dulin; it will be the pack’s duty to ensure that possession is not lost easily at the breakdown or set-piece so that the same weapons are denied ammunition.
“If we turn over the ball loosely it’s probably when they are most dangerous and can score their tries. It is just one of those days you have to concentrate at every moment and make every moment count. If we can do that, particularly in that first-half period we have a great chance.”
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
The captain adds: ”They have scored tries off turnover ball. You look at last year’s game [against France] where with six minutes to go we were five points ahead. We concede a penalty off a scrum, they tap and go and get over the line. They are frustrating and disappointing tries.”
O’Connell raises a spirit that didn’t need disturbing, but while Ireland’s problem with holding onto winning positions continues to haunt us, performances in the latter 40 minutes of games in this Championship have been massively improved.
“I guess it’s hard to suppress the French,” says Schmidt with the tone of a man who has played this one out in his head a number of times already.
“Particularly at home. they will come back into the game even if we do get in front.
“Unfortunately we’ve had experience of doing that against England and the All Blacks where we’ve worked really hard to get into the lead, we’ve put together some passages of play that have been world class and then allowed the game to slip through our fingers.
“With the world class type of player that the French have, with their ability to accelerate quickly, to link up in behind – if there is a line-break of any sort we just have to be massively on our mettle.”