Better When We’re Bitter

Well, that’s more like it, isn’t it?  It wasn’t quite enough to secure the win, but a draw in Paris was far better than what most of us expected.  It will ultimately go down as a disappointment, because Ireland put themselves in a position to win, but when it’s reviewed with a bit of context, it will go down as one of their better days under Kidney.  Here’s five things we learned from today’s game.

1. Bob Kearney and Stephen Ferris will be senior players on the Lions Tour

Amid all the Wales love this season and Lions-domination predictions, when for example Farmer Farrelly had 13 (thirteen!) Welshmen (and no Leinster players) on his Lions team, two of Ireland’s most important players have set extremely high standards.

Bob Kearney has always been the safest full-back in the air, but he has added really intelligent counter-attacking, line speed and leadership to his repertoire. Coming from a place where his replacement as Leinster fullback had inspired Leinster to a sparkling HEC, Bob has returned as a phenomenally good player. With Ben Foden off form, Little Leigh Halfpenny not a natural fullback and Stuey Hogg just out of nappies, Bob will go on his second Lions tour as a key player.

Meanwhile … Fez … what can we say. When Lionel Beauxis lined up what would have been the match winning drop today, we’re pretty sure he didn’t expect a forward to be the one on top of him, least of all Ireland’s huge enforcer and primary wrecking ball Stephen Ferris. Yet Fez was the man who batted him down. Fez! The quickest man over 10 metres in Ulster, the man’s power is simply incredible. He has twitch muscular strength of Samoan standard (Oooooooohhhh) yet has shown the softest hands in the Ireland team this series. The man is a freak and is the most Southern Hemisphere type player playing in the Six Nations. He’d walk into the New Zealand team, and will walk into the Lions team as well (sorry, Tom Croft).

Paul O’Connell, meanwhile, will be in the shake-up for the captaincy.  Age has not dimmed his ability to conjure up a sort of maniacal energy in the middle of the pack.

2. Les Kiss had a successful week at the office

Ireland’s line-speed in defence was vastly improved this week, and the benefit was reaped early and often.  In the first half hour in particular, Ireland had France in all sorts of trouble.  Any attempt they made to go wide was snaffled out with man-and-ball tackles from Ireland’s backrow and midfield.  Sexton and Ferris come in for particular credit here for their aggression and technique.  The choke tackle may be predictable at this stage, but it’s still effective and still wins turnovers.

3. Some semblance of a gameplan has emerged

Ireland didn’t have that much ball to play with, but they are starting to play with a bit more attacking shape.  We’re still not convinced management are getting enough out of the group of players in attack, but they are looking a lot more cohesive.  Sexton is having a lot of success running a line from very deep behind the ruck – almost to the point where you think he’s going to drop a goal (he mentioned in the Sunday Times that he’s seen Quade Cooper use it to great effect).  He’s comfortable carrying the ball towards the gainline and his ability to throw long, accurate passes takes out midfield blitz defenders.

4. Our strengths are our weaknesses and our weaknesses are our strengths

Ireland were arguably a functioning lineout away from winning the game.  Ireland’s centres stood up to the threat posed by France’s thoroughbreds and caused them some trouble themselves.  Come again?  Surely that’s the wrong way round.  Given the calibre of personnel running the lineout, it was alarmingly awful today, and wasn’t great against Italy either.  We would be surprised if it wasn’t fixed next week – it will need to be, because Scotland’s defensive lineout is perhaps the best in the Six Nations.

D’arcy and Earls were perceived as a massive weakness before the tournament, but they’ve been effective so far.  D’arcy’s still got quick feet that can make ground in traffic, even if he rarely makes clean breaks these days.  Earls, meanwhile, has been defensively good (one missed tackle and an admittedly crucial stupid fly hack that led to the French try aside) and the way he put Bowe through for the try… well you’d almost think he was a natural centre. 

5. Ireland need to back this up against Scotland

It’s not really something that you should dwell on, lest you get frustrated again, but Ireland’s annoying post-Grand Slam habit of one big performance a tournament is well-documented at this stage. Rubbish in the humdrum games, only to pull a huge performance out of the bag when nobody expects it.  The show in Paris yesterday was Ireland’s best against the Bleu Meanies in years, but can they follow it up against Scotland? With a six day turnaround, we can expect changes at 4, 7, 9 and possibly the introduction of Ferg somewhere in the 3/4 line to give some much-needed recovery to the front-liners – Donncha’s unseen work can be particularly wearying.

This should add a sense of urgency to Ireland because, let’s be honest, it’s primed for an ambush. You feel for Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony as they will be expected to hit the ground running. Yet Ryan will face one Richard James Gray, the most exciting second row talent to emerge in these islands since Alun Wyn Jones Paul O’Connell; and O’Mahony will be expected by goons like McGurk and Hook to produce a Brussouw-esque groundhog performance facing not one but two genuine opensides (we’ve checked and they’re genuine) in Ross Rennie and John Barclay. Good luck.

It’s going to be a tough day at the office, but lets not deflate this bubble too much!

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3 Comments

  1. As an addendum, a sixth thing we learned – though you could say we knew it already – is that Donncha O'Callaghan's time as a starter is up. Stats don't prove everything, but Donncha's defenders have always held up his tackle count as proof of his quality. ESPN stats – http://www.espnscrum.com/six-nations-2012/rugby/match/133771.html – have our supposed tackling machine down as the sixth highest tackler of the pack, with eight succesful tackles. Ryan equalled that number in his spell from the bench. DOC also made two carries for a total of zero metres gained. On the first of those carries the ball popped out of his hands like a bar of soap, and on the other he went into contact with a body position that even Rhys Ruddock would have questioned. We will be astonished if Ryan doesn't start against Scotland.

  2. Black writing on grass background… Unreadable!

  3. @Anon. Wow! That's a bit odd. Shouldn't be, it's set as a white background and that's how it's always been, but I know subtly different things can happen when you view it on a different platform eg Firefox vs. Explorer. Let us know what browser you're using, maybe?

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