In the aftermath of Ireland’s defeat to France, a lot has been made of their decision-making when they were awarded penalties. Maybe it had something to do with the result of the England-Italy game changing what they needed to do in order to win the Championship, but Ireland seemed to fall between two stools with regards to their choice of kicking at goal or going down the line.
If the mindset of going for the try bonus point had been drilled into them all week by Andy Farrell and co., then it might have been too much to ask of them to alter their strategy less than two hours before kick-off. At the same time, building into a lead slowly is a good way of putting doubt into the minds of your opponents, especially if they are as young as this French team, but it’s easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight.
To win against big teams on their home patch, your accuracy levels have to be near-perfect, and that definitely wasn’t the case with Ireland yesterday. Irrespective of their tactics, Ireland’s execution was well below where it needed to be, but it wasn’t a disastrous performance from Ireland. They troubled France in the first half with their kicking, and got a decent return from their one out-carrying sequences in the 22 and phase-play attack:
Poor defence for Gaël Fickou’s try and not taking the points that were on offer at the end of the first half meant that they went into the break without the lead that you could argue they deserved, but their real problems came in the second half when mistake after mistake handed momentum to France:
Aside from turnovers, Ireland didn’t do themselves any favours with some of the options that they took in attack. They cut back infield when the space was further out, moved the ball wide when France had sufficient numbers there (meaning that Ireland got isolated and struggled to retain possession/generate quick ruck-ball), and chose to put kicks in behind the front line of the French defence when the sweeper had this area covered:
Given the vast experience that Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton have, you would have expected better from them, but the clusters of errors and wrong decisions from Ireland (as well as the implosion of their lineout) invited a French onslaught, and after going toe-to-toe with France in contact in the first half, the Irish forwards started getting blown away by the French pack in the tackle and at the breakdown:
Robbie Henshaw’s brilliant try put Ireland back in contention before Virimi Vakatawa sealed the win for France, and he and his teammates battled to the death, but the errors from Ireland undid them in this fixture. That can be partly attributed to the bad weather, but both teams played in the same conditions, and what will frustrate Ireland is that they were still in contention to win this game with 20 minutes to go.
Progress, Not Perfection
As irritating a phrase as it is to hear, Ireland are a team in transition at this moment in time, and given that Andy Farrell is likely to use the Autumn Nations Cup to strengthen the depth of his squad, it probably won’t be until next year’s Six Nations until we get an idea of how far Ireland have come under him. The stuttering nature of their win over Scotland can be forgiven because it was the first match under a new coaching ticket, and the trouncing of Wales was promising, but Ireland are still struggling with the power that the better teams possess.
With Dan Leavy back in action for Leinster, Tadhg Furlong, Dave Kilcoyne, Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose all hopefully returning from injury before next February, and Ryan Baird set for game-time against Georgia at least (as well as Craig Casey, Gavin Coombes and Shane Daly making strong cases for international selection), Ireland will be in a better place heading into next year’s Six Nations, and with England and France at home, it’s not that big a leap to think that they could be in contention to win the tournament.
The above-mentioned forwards will bolster Ireland up front, which will make implementing their attacking strategy easier. The Jacob Stockdale at 15 experiment wasn’t quite an unqualified success, and could be shelved for now, but his mistakes weren’t the only reason behind Ireland losing to France. There’s do denying that the men in green have hit a bump in the road, but on the bright side, a lot of what they did wrong in Paris is fixable. It’s tempting to focus on the negatives after a loss, but this tournament could be the first step towards another successful period for Irish rugby.