The Spectre of Historical Bamboozling

When New Zealand won the 2011 World Cup in outrageously fortuitous circumstances, we gave them some credit in spite of the dubious manner of their victory.  The reason was because they not only had to beat France, but the weight of history too, after so many diabolical chokes.  In similar circumstances, Ireland must beat France in Paris this weekend.  On the evidence of the tournament so far (and what better evidence is there to go on?) Ireland are a vastly better team, a better coached and selected team, more unified, fitter and more skilful and should be strong favourites for the win.  Their greatest obstacle is the weight of history; that so many visits to Paris have ended in sorry defeat and that this will affect the mentality of the players.  Ireland have a well-earned reputation as the nearly men of international rugby, and their inability to beat France more often is the prosecution’s Exhibit B (you know what exhibit A is).

The build-up this week will feature and has featured lots of phrases such as French unpredictability, the difficulty of winning in Paris, backlashes and France having one big performance in them – Gerry has even rolled out 1982 in the case for the defence.  The job for Joe Schmidt is to get such thoughts out of the players’ minds, and surely there is nobody better able to do so.  Schmidt’s modus operandi is to hand players the solution to beating opponents.  How many times have we heard that he is obsessed with process, detail and accuracy.  If the players can get previous defeats in Paris out of their minds, and focus on exploiting the French team’s weaknesses (and there are many) they will win the game, and the championship.  One thing that came out of the recent Q&A that went viral was Schmidt’s unwillingness to accept ‘received wisdoms’ and we cannot envisage how he will be in any way daunted by Ireland’s miserable record in Paris.  Focus on the process!

[Note: another was, ironically, Schmidt’s reluctance to give the 2011 BNZ team any credit for the final – he claimed they had choked worse than 2007 and were indebted to an even bigger choke – from Joubert]

Listen to, say, Keith Wood describe playing the French in Paris and he talks about a whirlwind of pace; just as you clear your lines, the French take a quick lineout, you spend the first 20 minutes without the ball as the French create ruck after ruck, phase after phase, attack after attack.  But them days is gone; the chances of Ireland struggling to handle this French team’s pace in the first 20 minutes would appear almost non existent.  Phillipe Saint Andre has stuck to his selectorial guns and excluded Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc, so a sudden upping of their slow-motion grindathon rugby is off le carte. Our catalogue of betes noires from the noughties – Clerc, Servat, Pelous, Harinordoquoy, Heymans, Jauzion, Poitrenaud – are nowhere to be seen.

We can also expect plenty of rumours of player power and a French revolt, but again, where can it come from?  Some sort of dressing room coup seemed to take place in the World Cup, when the hapless Lievremont was in place, but the leadership corp of strong personalities who were in place then are all gone – none of Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire, William Servat, Dmitri Yachvili or Thierry Dusautoir are in the current squad.  Pascal Pape is the current captain and he does not have the demeanour of a man about to wrest the controls from the coach.  Heck, the man looks like he got out of bed five minutes before kick-off.

Paul O’Connell talked after the Italy game of the respect they showed Italy, and how the result came from that; well, this week, it’s important we show a healthy lack of respect for France.  If anything, in the past, we appear to have shown too much respect for them.  So many defeats appear to have been borne out by standing off the French, apparently seduced by their good looks and Galois-smoking coolness. Gerry’s oft-repeated warning about kicking loosely to their back three is as much a love letter as anything else.

Look a little closer, though, and that’s maybe not quite the case, not in the last decade anyway.  While Ireland’s record in Paris clearly points to some sort of inferiority complex, it is not so much that they are beaten out the gate; more that reactions to on-pitch events have let us down.  Recent visits to Paris have more often than not been notable for Ireland starting really well and even taking the game to the home side.  The matches have typically slid away from Ireland due to a game-changing moment going against us, or some sort of utterly wretched point-gun-at-foot-and-pull-trigger incident, or panic setting in at the first sign of momentum shifting against us.  Even the pretty abject 2012-vintage Ireland took the game to France and stormed into an early lead, before a lucky French try brought them back into the game, which was eventually drawn.

And while a scoreline of 33-10 in 2010 looks like a classic French drubbing, for the first 30 minutes Ireland were the better side, and should have scored after Gordon D’arcy’s break and chip-and-chase bounced cruelly.  Ireland paid for a daftly selected bench and were forced to bring on Paddy Wallace for the stricken Rob Kearney and had to change around most of their backline.  The pendulum swung France’s way and first Jirry Flannery, and then DJ Church, had hugely expensive moments of madness.

2008 was similar again.  Ireland were badly stuttering in the Last Days of Eddie, but they attacked France from the first moment, but gave Vincent Clerc a couple of soft jog-in tries and a freakish Cedric Heymans try appeared to put France out of sight.  But Ireland refused to lie down.  Jamie Heaslip had finally been given a start by a reluctant Eddie O’Sullivan and was outstanding, as Ireland fought back to almost win at the death.

And who could forget the 2006 bonkers-fest?  Again Ireland played most of the rugby, but just couldn’t stop punching themselves in the face, and allowed France to score a bunch of utterly ridiculous, boneheadedly farcical tries.  Geordan Murphy’s reputation of not having a ‘happy hunting ground’ in Paris was sealed here, as he endured a nightmare.  This was the game where Neil Francis gave a somewhat raw Tommy Bowe zero out of ten.  But again, Ireland refused to lie down.  Trimble replaced Bowe and was superb as Ireland countered with no less than four second half tries and had France hanging on at the end.

Ireland need to foster the same attacking spirit as they have in the past.  The key to winning will be maintaining cool heads in the face of pressure and the inevitable occasional hometown decision. Ireland should be better than France in every other respect.  A performance on a par with those delivered against England or Wales will be good enough – and more.  A win for Ireland and the sceptre of historical bamboozling can be slain.

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  1. curates_egg

     /  March 13, 2014

    You are of course right but it is hard to ignore the weight – it is also on the backs of supporters, with so many of us having endured dark days in St Denis, where you leave cold and brow-beaten. I am travelling down this weekend and it is my first Ireland match since 2010 but I can feel the weight of past defeats weighing my optimism down. At least the weather looks nice, so we won’t leave cold…

    The one other recent match you leave out is the 2007 loss in the world cup, when Beagle inexplicably decided to just leave his wing wide open for a threatening French attacking scrum. Based on his rejuvenation, it is hard to see that being replicated. Hopefully, the cover tackling of our back-three has been worked on though.

  2. PSA is bringing in Tales and Fickou, which on the one hand is worrying, but on the other hand heartening to see an untried midfield combination. As long as we starve the French of any ball though, it should be grand.

    • I don’t think Tales is anything to fear. Nowhere near as good as Sexton. And while Fickou is talented, he’s inexperienced at test level and they still have Basteraud outside, who cannot get anything going this championship. I see little to fear.

      Also, it doesn’t really matter who they pick, they just don’t look mentally at the races.

  3. Another great post guys, certainly based on the form in this years 6N we have to, and rightly so, back ourselves to pick up that elusive win in Paris. The French look to have no game plan and appear rudderless, in that regard the loss of Dusatoir has been huge. PSA has made some mad selections although I see Mach has been dropped completely and with Szarzewski in at 2 their line out should function better than it has. Fickou ay 12 would indicate that France see our lack of pace in the 12-13 channel as a potential weakness and Picamoles’s return gives them more balance in the back row. Still 1-15 we are a better team IMO and should win and in the process hopefully shake the Paris monkey off our back…but it’ll be close run thing IMO I think.

  4. Regarding my previous comments I now see Picamoles is starting at 6, ???

    • Jimbob

       /  March 13, 2014

      PSA says Picamoles and Chouly will alternate throughout the game. Provides a bit of unpredictability but also a potential for confusion among the French back row.. it’ll be interesting to see if the keep the switching to set piece or if they do it in the loose too.

  5. Xyz

     /  March 13, 2014

    Another thing that gets trotted out is the need to go out and blitz the french in the first 10 minutes, get their tails down and wait for the crowd to turn on them.

    But this is absurd, and you could see Joe being furious with anyone for suggesting it. Games aren’t won in the first quarter and waiting for the home crowd to get on their own team’s backs is to leave things out of your own control. The game will be won, as you highlight, by focusing on process and execution of a superior game plan.

    • Definitely. Blitzing them in the first half is actually what we did both last year and the year before – and both times France clawed it back to a draw in the end. The team has to be patient, not panic if they make mistakes and/or the French score, and trust in the process and the gameplan. I’m tired of going in at halftime with a solid lead, only to watch Ireland take the foot off the gas as France produce a couple of magic moments. Ireland’s bench is faster and more dynamic than France’s now that Fickou is starting; there’s every reason to believe we can win it in the last 10 minutes if we have to, not just in the first 10.

    • This is why I think last week’s game was an important rehearsal for this game. Ireland played a patient first 30 minutes or so of the game. No panic when Italy scored, and wore the opposition down. A first-quarter blitz isn’t always the best tactic, and I think it would be wrong against the French.

  6. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  March 13, 2014

    Ireland rugby mantra 2014: We have to be patient. Focus on the process. Accuracy in execution. Consistency. Trust in those around you. Wear them down.
    All true, all admirable, all have taken us this far. And we’ve all bought in. If somebody was to stand up in the Parc on Saturday & shout ‘give it a lash lads’ they’d nearly be strung up! My point is that we all acknowledge the BNZ in Joe, but what is maybe more evident in the changed collective mind-set is the influence of the Scandinavian in Mr. Schmidt!!!

    • curates_egg

       /  March 13, 2014

      It is possible they might strung up if there was anyone else in the ‘Parc’ but both of them would be lost and a long way from the France-Ireland game in the Stade de France 😉

  7. B

     /  March 13, 2014

    Pointing to near misses is one thing and does stress how close the two teams have been in the past, but also serves to underline the appearance that France have a hoodoo over Ireland which allows them to win no matter what.

    As for the impending game, I do think Ireland can win but the general downplaying of France (online mostly) has been pretty horrifying in a way. The idea that Ireland are even 1 point favourites in an away game against a top six nation is ridiculous and designed to part fair weather punters with their spondoolicks.

    I’ve seen it said that France are even worse than last year but based on results this is not the case. I’ve seen it suggested that they are rudderless, dying for a player revolution, etc, but Mas’ walk out and again the fact that they’ve won more than last year suggests that this might not be the case. Although things look grim from outside it may be better inside the camp, Leinster under Schmidt in the early days is an obvious example of this situation.

    Finally, despite obvious limitations the french team holds elements of each of the other 5 nations which will make them difficult to predict and accurately nullify as it requires multiple gameplans at once. In Fickou, Basto and Picamoles they have the juggarnaut midfield runs of Wales. They have 3 fullbacks on the field meaning they have the counter attacking abilities of multiple mike browns. They have a limited but aggravating pack like Scotland. And yes they have the cliched Gallic ability to create something out of nothing. Imo their main weakness is their set piece has seemed ordinary, even below par, but here a lot rests on the refs interpretation. It should be an epic encounter.

  8. If France’s line-out malfunctions like in the game against Scotland, I hope Johnny Sexbomb kicks to touch – a lot!!!!!!

  9. Joe

     /  March 13, 2014

    There’s a nice subtext to breaking the French voodoo too, given the RWC15 grouping.

    Squeak a win here, destroy them at home next year as part of our ’15 Grand Slam winning run, and by the time the RWC comes we’ll be unbeaten in our last 4 years against them.

  10. Just heard Madigan made the bench ahead of PJ. I’m pleased about that and not just because I’m a Leinster fan. If anything were to happen to Sexton and say we were one score down with ten minutes to go, I think Madigan would be the replacement, who could get us – and maybe even himself – over the line. In a nutshell he’s got that je ne sais quoi….

    • After having the obligatory Ulster fan knee-jerk response of “Why drop Wee PJ for that dubiously-coiffed flibbertigibbet?”, I sat down and had a further think, and I can understand the call. Beyond the coverage of extra back positions that Madigan offers, it seems likely that if we can wear France down the way we have all the other sides (saving England), there are some sizeable holes going to open up. Whether or not his decisions are always the right ones, Madigan does tend to make them fast enough to avail of gaps that open up. If he comes on in the 60th minute and scores or makes a couple of tries, I’ll be cheering. Through gritted teeth, naturally (sure, he’s probably a lovely fella).

  11. Yossarian

     /  March 13, 2014

    After the naming of the French team i am getting the jiiters!best back row they have named so far in the tournament and (on paper) there is a good pack there. Likewise a change at 10 could go either way but would have preferred Plisson as we would have known what is coming. Fickou in is classic French coaching stumbling onto his best midfield option after the non preforming Marty last week. and the back three are all dangerous.
    Complacency won’t be a problem now at least!

    • curates_egg

       /  March 14, 2014

      I don’t think it is the best backrow they have named so far. I thought Nyanga was superb and Picamoles is named in a position I cannot remember him playing in.

      • True,Nyanga was playing great, the only one who seemed to care a lot of the time!In the context of the injuries/limited squad named he seems to have opted for a stronger selection. Picamoles at 6 is bizare but so was Costello at 6 for Ireland and it worked to an extent.

  12. Rocky

     /  March 13, 2014

    As is often the case now, my main worry about our chances rests with the man in the middle, Mr egotistic Walsh. How i wish we had Nigel Owens instead!

    • I don’t know about that – Owens might be a great ref, but if we were 2 points down in the 79th minute with France powering through phases in our 22 and the crowd baying, would you be confident Owens could resist the whistle? Walsh is not only the best-looking man in the world, but his irrepressible self-belief means he is as strong a ref as there is out there

      • Credit, where credit is due. Good point, WoC.

      • Was this a psychic premonition? A scrum in our own 22 descends into chaos in the last minute. Owens would have pinged McGrath there and we’d be dissecting another heartbreak in Paris!! Walsh made some big mistakes yesterday but he didn’t bow to the crowd at the end and we got out of dodge!

    • curates_egg

       /  March 13, 2014

      Barnes on the sideline is the main worry

  13. Hansie Macdermot

     /  March 13, 2014

    I know that it is the brave new world of detail and organisation according to Joe and I believe
    that we will win on Saturday.
    However, over the past 50 years,we have contrived to lose to most French sides – varying quality – the very good, good, average, bad, rank bad.
    The present lot are somewhere between rank bad and bad.
    Our problem with France in Paris is almost as bad as facing BNZ.
    It is really annoying as some poor English, Scots and Welsh sides have won in Paris more
    frequently than us so success is overdue.
    But based on the season to date surely now is the time – good luck Ireland.

    (Tough luck on Paddy Jackson but the Madigan scalded cat routine may find some gaps late on.)

  14. connachtexile

     /  March 13, 2014

    Did you have to bring up the 2006 bonkers-fest? Some of us are still trying to repress. you know As for the French 15 I have to say I wasn’t impressed. Chouly at 6? Fickou at 12? Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to play those guys in their optimum positions?

  15. hulkinator

     /  March 13, 2014

    Lets be realistic here. France has to turn up to beat this Irish team! Ireland have been very consistent and will be hard to beat. If France don’t turn up they’ll lose.

    And if Ireland are dominating I want to see them make a statement by winning well. Its time to grow up and take down the SuperFrench posters and knock them off the pedestals.

    • Scrumdog

       /  March 14, 2014

      Ruthless Irish performance needed with the ‘foot on the throat’ while we run up the points,as they say! Ireland will emerge from this 6N on the pathway to being a world rugby powerhouse!

  16. Ciano

     /  March 14, 2014

    The worry is not THEIR backlash, but OUR performance and most of all; killer instinct! Will we be so impressed with them that we let them off the hook at the one moment we can finish them off as against NZ and England?

  17. Bueller

     /  March 14, 2014

    I’m hoping Joe Schmidt does a hell of a lot more tactical than this. The French have not been in top form this championship but they have been far from hapless. Their game-plan is not clicking yet but they do have one and if you run through their team-sheet they have a hell of a lot of good players, most of whom would put a good case forward for the making the Irish line-up if they were. In soccer we are constantly told how good teams win even when they are playing badly and the French have still ground out 3 wins so far and won both their home games.
    You are right – they shouldn’t go over there in fear but as you say mentality isn’t everything and the French are still pretty good if it comes together for them.

  18. TJ Hooker

     /  March 14, 2014

    Where can I see the Schmidt Q&A referred to in the piece?

  19. Ciano

     /  March 14, 2014

    Apologies in advance for this: but I fucking love Ian Madigan as a player. I know he’s a long way to go to being at Test level, but he’s awesome.

    • don’t appologies for that!he has a cavalier, take it to the gain line approach coupled with lovely flat passing which is fantastic to watch. Just not neccesarily suited to test match rugby. A perfect Baba’s 10 maybe!?! His game against Glasgow where he reined in his go it alone instincts was impresive, varied his game nicely that day and looked more like a test 10. You have to wonder does joe really trust Jackson. Reluctant to bring him on vs England when Sexton was off his game and maybe even carrying a knock- not sure he would have brought Madigan on in the same scenario though. Nearly every country have their front line 10 who they really won’t replace baring injury or catastrophic form.(Carter,Farrell,Priestland,Sexton,Cooper)

    • Paddy o

       /  March 14, 2014

      Think the Madigan selection is a very good one, but wouldn’t agree with reining him in Yossarian, I’d be for encouraging the scamp! Wozkabomy! The plan possibly is to beat the French aerobically and Madigan would suit that – Ireland’s games have been like a bleep test, with gradually ramping up intensity.

      It also indicates that Ireland aren’t going out to defend their way to the title – they are prepared to attack. This is a sign of healthy confidence. Say England put a very big score on Italy – which given their improved attack against Wales is not impossible, Ireland may have to win by a defined margin. Madigan fits the bill for that for me. Am not saying PJ couldn’t do any of those things, but if we are needing something different to break them down in the last 10 minutes to win the championship – again Madigan is more suited.

      The covering a few positions thing is relevant too, especially when you think how the final game of last year turned out.

  20. Scrumdog

     /  March 14, 2014

    Never have I seen an Irish team play with such patience, precision and that order! We’ve always had the players but never a coach like Joe Schmidt!

    Horses for courses yet again…Madigan (flair with ball in hand) to be let loose in the closing out of the game with more young legs from the bench who can handle the ball well to complete the 80 minute assault on the French! Like the AB’s match in November, we’ll be all over the French.

    By the way, Dennis Leamy can piss and moan all he wants about selections but he’s only adding to the incessant ‘bitching’ from red-goggled Munster supporters when he be should listening to Donnacha Ryan about why the Ireland side is of predominantly Leinster and Ulster players.

    Ireland to win well!

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