France v Ireland: Six Nations Round 5

Out of the three games, this was the one most people were looking forward to. Both France and Ireland came into this game with wins in their last games, and so it always looked likely that this would be a closely contested match. However, it also had a lot riding on it, with England keeping an eye on it to see if France would stop Ireland taking the title off them.

Ireland began in their usual slow manner, which is not a criticism. We saw against Italy last weekend how they needed time to get into the game, and are a team happy to bide their time and wait for the right time to attack, not rushing when they don’t need to. This showed in the fact that their first try came from one of their first opportunities, with prop Cian Healy getting the try on his 100th Ireland appearance, following good build-up play by the Irish players.

However, what was also evident was that Ireland were feeling the pressure of the occasion, and were struggling to keep France back. Les Bleus were attacking with intent, and, when they broke through Ireland’s defensive line, the Irish players were doing everything they could to stop them, including, in flanker Caelan Doris’ case, stopping them scoring tries illegally, pulling back France flanker Francois Cros when he was going to score a try. This gave France a penalty try, which was never in doubt once the foul had been committed.

The second half didn’t start that much better for them either, with errors still present in their play. They didn’t seem to be able to get their attack fired up at all, which meant they didn’t have any momentum, and it cost them good opportunities which needed to be taken. Their lineouts were also littered with errors, with them often overthrowing or not finding the right timing with the ball, and this meant that France were winning the ball very easily in these areas. Again, it was likely that this was down to the pressure they were under to get the win and take the title. What they needed was a bit more creativitiy in their game, and, eventually, they found it with centre Robbie Henshaw, when he went through the French defence brilliantly to score.

There was some late joy for Ireland, despite all of the negatives we saw in their performance, which came when full-back Jacob Stockdale scored a try in the dying stages. It didn’t help them in terms of the scoreline, but it did mean that it was a little more respectable for them.

France, meanwhile, knew that, realistically, there was only an outside chance that they would be able to claim the Six Nations title this year, and that showed in their performance, because they played with no pressure on them, and were openly creative and willing to try things. We know that their threat comes in the wider areas, and their first try came from a run down the wing by Gael Fickou, before he offloaded to scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who was excellent throughout the game. Dupont went over, taking advantage of Ireland’s disorganisation in defence. It said a lot that prop Andrew Porter was the one trying to stop Fickou running through, which was never going to be a contest.

As mentioned earlier, France attacked with intent, but they weren’t able to take advantage of Caelan Doris’ sin bin, which did show how tough Ireland are to break down, as we know they are, but France made errors in key situations which meant that they couldn’t make anything happen when they had the extra player on the field, and Ireland only gave away one kicked penalty in terms of points conceded whilst Doris was on the sidelines.

However, something we have really noticed with France over this year’s Six Nations is that their defence has become stronger and much harder to break through, and this was the case in this game as well. Defence coach Shaun Edwards, who is one of the best in the business, and was part of Warren Gatland’s Wales coaching team, has clearly worked on this with them. This gives them a platform on which they can then build their attacks on. It helped France to a half-time lead, and their third try after half-time came from this too, with fly-half Romain Ntamack able to run through and score. However, this is not to say that their defence was perfect, because they will be annoyed at how easily Robbie Henshaw was able to get through and score, but their defence is still a lot better and more organised on the whole than it has been over the last few seasons, which is a positive for French rugby generally.

When it came to the French attack, they were constantly able to push Ireland backwards, with the Irish making plenty of mistakes, but France’s general play also helped them to take control. The one player who seemed to be controlling everything France did was Ntamack, who had an outstanding game. He was very creative, and brought in a series of kick passes that were just nudged over the heads of the Irish defenders, before he ran through to catch them and get forward. The final French try saw one of these kicks go over the Irish players, before Ntamack offloaded to centre Virimi Vakatawa, who went over very easily to score. You could say that this was bad defending from Ireland, but, in all honesty, it was more down to Ntamack and what he brings to France in the middle of the pitch.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

There were a few contenders for this one in the French team. Number 8 Gregory Alldritt was brilliant throughout, Antoine Dupont had another really good game, and Virimi Vakatawa proved to be a handful for Ireland. However, Romain Ntamack gets the award for this game, because he was involved in everything France did well, and added an extra level of creativity in their attack which we haven’t seen for a few seasons. He also kicked reliably too, and barely put a foot wrong all game.

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