It’s Alive!!!

The best test of last weekend (and November so far) was the France-Australia showdown in the Stade de France. In the gold corner were a Wallaby team coming in on the back of the traditional single-digit victory over Wales (but they were SO close this time – if only they didn’t <insert brain freeze here> they’d always beat the Southern Hemisphere sides) and in the blue corner a French team that is impossible to predict to any degree whatsoever – any result between a 10 point French win and a 40 point Wallaby win (as per two years ago) was a possibility. The relevance for Ireland was obvious – not only are the Wobs the next victims in the Joe Schmidt I-always-said-he-was-the-best-coach-in-the-world Ireland bandwagon, but the French are the team we’ll need to beat if the easier path to an historic RWC semi-final is to be realized.

In Ireland, we have a complicated relationship with the French – we disdain the way their club sides roll over away from home, lecture them on culture and passion, encourage them to be more like us in kicking corners and showing discipline; yet simultaneously go weak-kneed at Yoann Huget’s expressive eyebrows and wet ourselves at the prospect of being on the receiving end of a Wes Fofana piece of brilliance. In recent years, we’ve turned around our addiction to defeat – draws in 2012 and 2013 were bested by that incredible win in the Stade de France in March. Amazingly, we haven’t been beaten by France since Tomas O’Leary played himself off the RWC11 plane with that suicide pass in the Palindrome; and only once in the last 9 meetings (W2 D2 L5) have we lost by double digits.

Madcap French coach ™ Philippe Saint-Andre broke the habit of a lifetime and actually picked the same side as a week before – this was both surprising and concerning – is there something to worry about all of a sudden? Seems like there was – the French came out to bash the Aussies up front and stop them getting the kind of quick ball they could have fun with. The front row not only did their thing, but introduced the monstrous Samoan-Frenchman Uini Atonio to the world – we hold our hands up and confess to not watching much Atlantique Stade Rochelais – but we missed a phenomenally strong carrier and a destructive scrummager. Uh-oh.

Also, the French love a beefy second row to smash rucks and add a chunk of power to the scrum. Yoann Maestri has often flattered to deceieve a little – he never quite plays as well as he looks. On Saturday, he did, and had the Australian forwards scattered asunder on several occasions – the French urgently needed an injection of ugly brawn to the pack, and Maestri may have come of age at just the wrong time for us. Above all though, was the sustained excellence of Thierry Dusautoir – like Paul O’Connell, who brings the Munster and Ireland teams up about 30% every time he plays, Dusautoir carries the French to a high level and keeps them there. The man who haunts even Ruchie’s dreams is their key man.

Equally, the imposition of the Waratahs defensive system to the Wobblies wasn’t going to plan – the non-Tahs were struggling and the French outhalf Camille Lopez was carrying the ball right to the gain-line and through them. Lopez has been seen as the future for a couple of years now but has either been held back or got injured – he might look like a student bum looking for summer work on a vineyard, but he plays like a ballerina and had les bleus purring. He even laid a couple of eggs on restarts to remind us he is at heart an enigmatic Gallic superhero, who probably smokes 20 a day and sups beer at half-time, a la Bernard Hinault. Incredibly, this was his first game in le Stade, as it was for Teddy Thomas, who scored a brilliant individual try.

For Ireland, it was all a bit nerve-shredding. Because it looked to be dying on its feet, but IT’S ALIVE, and it has the power to dash our RWC dreams with one insouciant flick of its incredibly good-looking tail.  But let’s not forget the coach is still a lunatic, and who would safely put money on even ten of the starting fifteen making it to the World Cup team.  Camille Lopez won’t have it all his own way over the next twelve months and they could be back to fiddling around with second-raters before we know it.

In terms of the short-term goals, the Wobblies look there for the taking. Cheiks has said he is targeting the sagging behemoth that is England, and 5 or 6 changes are likely (including Portly returning in some capacity). Unlike against the Boks, we will have no qualms about mixing it with their forwards, so a subtly different gameplan is possible – and judging by the defensive shenanigans in evidence Saturday, less boot and more passing might be in order. But not that much more – it’ll be up to Ireland to keep the game structured; the looser it gets the better it suits the Wobs.  Some variation on the tried and tested formula of smashing the breakdown with ruthless accuracy and utilising Sexton and Murray’s ability to guide the team aroud the right parts of the pitch looks to be in order.  Ireland might use their attacking maul a bit more.  It worked a treat in the Six Nations and the Wobs are the sort of team against whom it can be harnessed to good effect.  We have a great chance to go 3-for-3 this November and end the year in 3rd in the rankings, but the medium-term goal of an RWC semi-final just got a little more complicated.

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  1. hulkinator

     /  November 18, 2014

    With France it depends how the team gels. They looked good against Australia but made many schoolboy errors. Lopez looks like a quality player alright which is a concern!

    Still, there are positives. With 5 min to go France were hanging on and they looked out on their feet. That was to do with fitness and also any player over 20st will struggle to keep up with test match intensity. Gaps will appear against them.

    The Wallabies looked a little tired to me. It was 3rd match in a row for some of their players and Folau for example had an uncharacteristically bad game.

    Also we play France at home and in a neutral venue next year so that’ll take away their home advantage. Stll they’re very dangerous and capable of anything.

  2. France will always play well against us and play badly against England, usually only a matter of weeks apart. That is the inconvenient truth.

  3. shapes

     /  November 18, 2014

    This talk about the French rejuventation is eerily similar to what was said about them two years ago when they hammered Australia and had a clean sweep in the autumn. And look what has happened since. A terrible Six Nations, a whitewash in NZ, poor autumn in 2013 and a mixed bag in the 6N this year, with god knows how many half back combinations used. Lets not forget that this time last year it was Tales that was being lauded as the saviour of the French and by the Six Nations, Jules Plisson was wearing 10 ( I know Tales came back in towards the end).

    Let’s wait and see how the Six Nations and particularly Feb 14 unfolds before getting too worked up about them.

  4. D6W

     /  November 18, 2014

    Because as you say, it is France and maybe only 10 of the current team may make it to RWC under PSA, I don’t think we can realy extrapuluate anything from Saturdays match that would be relevant to France at RWC, maybe not even the 6N.

    Similar to non-Leinster players when Schmidt took over, maybe the non-Tahs are still getting used to Cheika defensive systems, but that means that they may well be better facing us than they were against Frnce. That said, we should still beat them.

    • I think its interesting the way we criticize PSA. Now don’t get me wrong hes insane , his selection has seemed erratic at times (Playing fofana on the wing!!)But as some of you have said , Hes performed poorly in the Six Nations but tried lots of differnt players and combination., But got them to World Cup Final and many would see that as a top priority , Ive heard many Ireland fans lauding the Idea to try combinations during the Six Nations in order to peak with World Cup , I would disagree.

      Intersting way of looking at it though.

      • D6W

         /  November 19, 2014

        Actually, I was not criticising PSA in any way. He is doing what any good coach is doing, he is looking at players and combinations, as you say. In fact, JS is doing the same thing, just with a smaller group of players. I am all for it, I wish Ireland’s previous two coaches had done a bit more of it.

      • Yossarian

         /  November 19, 2014

        PSA didn’t get them to a world cup final, that was the other lunatic Livremont.

        • How right you are ,here I was under the Impression that Saint Andre had been there for years and years now , thats interesting though , Livremont was a very similiar coach aswell if I remember correctly?

  5. le français sera français (You can have that one for free, courtesy of Google translate Gerry). They’ll probably end up losing to Italy on the first weekend and then turn around and absolutely paste us to salvage their knockout hopes (and maybe sneak the pool). The fact that our pool will effectively be a re-run of this year’s 6N match, just in a different setting may help us in that it’s essentially knockout rugby from there and Joe will have us honed nicely, but France are the ultimate enigma, dangerously so.

  6. The talk is the Aussies are shuffling things about this weekend but if that means genia, cooper and Beale playing then I’m not sure it’s such a good thing! They were dramatically better when genia came on against France.

  7. Certainly for the 6 Nations I don’t think it should really matter if they’re rejuvenated: we beat them on the one occasion they decided to play some rugby earlier this year, in Paris; we should be able to do so again in Dublin.

    On the psychological front, this group of players shouldn’t have any great fear of the French and certainly won’t consider them an enigmatic rugby force to be reckoned with. Ireland beat them in 2014 and were unfortunate to only draw in 2013 and 2012, our players have regularly beaten their players at European level, and the national team is being coached by a guy who’d have zero time for the notion that France has some sort of hoodoo over us. We’re well set up to perform and win against them.

    If we do beat them in the upcoming 6 Nations, we’ll actually have gone an entire World Cup cycle without losing to them, which is a little remarkable, and that should be significant at the competition itself.

  8. Yeah true enough thoughtless and Ireland are no doubt in a better place than France, but I wouldn’t see them as the gimme that some seem to. But then again even this scares me.

    • Monobrow Baby is quite scary, to be fair.

      I don’t think they’ll be a gimme by any means (they always play well against us for some reason, and given the fixture list next season I don’t think there will be any gimmes at all), but I think we have to have an expectation of beating them at home even if they do have something of a renaissance. We have the players and the coach for it, and talking them up as if they’re inscrutable magicians able to tear teams apart on a whime has been part of the problem in the past, imo. There’s been a fair few Irish sides that were beaten before they even took to the pitch against France, or beaten once they conceded a couple of early scores. We’re better than that now (I hope).

      • It’s not so much the Irish mentality to the French I worry about – it’s the French to us! They always seem to raise their game and become absolute monsters at the sight of a green jersey. Last years match is just a microcosm of it, useless all year but bring ridiculous physicality and skill for the Irish.

        I’d be confident of beating them but they are ridiculously enigmatic.

  9. The worrying thing about France is what they’ve been doing to us for ages (and to England last year) i.e. play about 10 minutes decent rugby and win the match. They might only have 3 decent plays and a penalty or two over 80 minutes, playing like muck for the vast majority of the game.. but with the French that can be 27 points scored in the blink of an eye! I think the past 3 years showed we had a massive mental block about them, doing absolutely everything in our power to hand them the game (we normally managed to achieve this within the first ten minutes during the O’Sullivan era). We shat ourselves over the line in Paris but hopefully that’s a big monkey off the teams back. As @PTranman said they could lose to Italy, produce heroics against us, and then limp out to Argentina in the QF’s!

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  November 19, 2014

      When a coach (Lancaster) makes critical decisions (hauling off Danny Care) based on what he is seeing on his laptop rather than what he is seeing on the pitch & what his instincts are (or should be) telling him then he deserves to lose a game that was there for the winning. At least that’s how I think the story goes!

  10. Yossarian

     /  November 19, 2014

    The French are consistently inconsistent. If they didn’t chalk up the odd win like this they would fire the coach and then we would be in real bother. We know (as last years decider showed) the French can play when the mood takes them. If the block down in the first minute had led to a try we might have had a very different game.
    At home they are a serious force but look at their win:loss ratio under PSA. It is atrocious. competition record reads: 2012 6 nations 4th. 2013 6 nations last.2014 6 nations 4th

    • I think it’s gotten to the stage where they’re just consistently shit! Watching their performances the past few years they have been the biggest basket case in International rugby. The odd moment of brilliance from a Picamoles or Fofana gets them through a few matches but by and large they’re godawful. Fat puddins who literally cannot pass the ball. How many times have we seen Basteraud steamroll some lad only to throw a pass 3 yards forward…their fitness and basic skills level is embarassing for any international side, especially one with such a deep playing pool (they probably have more quality depth than any other country). Having said that, I think us Irish fans have been terribly hypocritical of the French in recent years, no one does a good one off game or oscillates from brilliant to awful as much as the Irish rugby team, and it’s been that way since as far back as I can remember!

      • Yossarian

         /  November 19, 2014

        Yep,most under performing team in world rugby for the last number of years but still beat England,ran us close, Beat Oz at home last week and two years ago. They put out 1 performance in 10. We are often at the receiving end of that performance.
        My hope is they muddle through the group playing badly, we beat them in the decider, then they pull out the big game for NZ in the quarters. The thing is, even if they pull out a “performance” in the quarters i don’t think it will be enough to beat NZ as the game is growing ever more structured. An off the cuff performance just won’t be enough.

  11. I think crazy Phil can’t help himself. He seems to have an obsessive compulsion to tinker with his team. It means you can never be sure what will be thrown at you but it also destroys tbe teams continuity. Good for us given their in our group but a real shame as a French team firing on all cylinders is a joy to watch and they’re certainly not short on talent (10 being the only exception).

  12. Is “it depends what French team turns up” banned as something even too cliched for Gerry?

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