by Frank Schnittger
Sat Feb 3rd, 2024 at 12:10:06 AM EST
In my match preview I wrote:
I find the France Ireland match almost impossible to call. Both sides had a massive disappointment at the world cup, but both are still a top 4 side in the world. Both sides have lost a few key players, but seem to have the strength in depth to cope. Both sides have gone with a 6:2 bench split, which is risky in the event of injuries.
I think Ireland are in a good place, but home advantage is a huge factor when playing the French. Our away wins in France are as rare as hen's teeth, and our last win there took 40 odd phases and a 45 metre drop goal for us to snatch it at the death - by a man named Sexton, with an iron will and nerves of steel.
Leaving out Ryan from the starting team is a big risk, given our problems in the line-out. But having two inexperienced players covering 10 is probably the biggest risk of all. It's not that either are bad players, it's just that we don't yet know quite how good they can be at this level.
If Crowley and Frawley play well, we are in with a good chance. An average performance, and we could be in for a long night. But one thing is for sure; this team we give it their all. Problems will arise, and they will find a way to overcome them.
In Penaud, France have perhaps the best winger in the world, and their ability to score off turnovers and limited possession is unparalleled. If France are at their best, they should win. But France can also be unpredictable and quixotic.
Galthié has done well to to iron out some of their idiosyncrasies. In Ramos they have an outstanding place kicker, and in Jalibert the form out half in World rugby. But still the suspicion lurks that we might sneak this one, if we can dare to be bold. Play our best rugby, and anything is possible. Cautious conservatism will get us nowhere. We have to give it a lash!
All three Virgin Panel members, Horgan, Trimble and Rob Kearney went for France, so what do I know? Three early line-out wins, two off-side penalties (one converted) and a turnover is a good start for Ireland, and then Willemse draws a yellow card which he is lucky is not upgraded to red. Porter's HIA is passed.
Before Willemse can return Ireland score a great try by Gibson Park through great short passing. Crowley nails the conversion but misses a relatively kickable penalty. Combined with another missed try when VD Flier is held up , that is 10 points which Ireland have left behind.
Ramos then nails an even longer range penalty awarded against Ireland at a scrum. Instead of being 20 points up, the lead is down to 7. But great passing and lines of running yields another try for Tadgh Beirne. 17-3. Willemse gets a second yellow for another high tackle and so gets a red. France's night just got a lot harder.
It's been almost all Ireland so far. France start losing line-outs and a bit of heart. However, another scrum penalty to France against Porter and France go to the corner and get the breakthrough at the second time of asking just before half time. H/T 10-17.
It's worrying that France are still winning scrum penalties with their strong man Willemse gone, but Ireland are on top everywhere else. They really need to turn the screw on 14 man France in the second half. They can't afford to leave another 10 points behind. France have taken every point on offer.
Joe McCarthy, who has been having a good game, concedes a penalty and Ramos just misses. Ireland go through the phases and Nash scores in the corner. Ireland's running and passing has been superb. Crowley nails the touchline conversion. 10-24.
Crowley dinks rather than box kicks, but then concedes a penalty. O'Mahony is pinged and yellow carded for collapsing maul and France are awarded a 50:50 try and Ramos gets the touchline conversion. 17-24.
France win anther scrum penalty. Lowe has been great with his long clearances and running and now he holds up his man. Ireland maul a line-out and Sheehan scores the bonus point try! Crowley nails another touch line conversion! 17-31,
The Benches come on. The minutes tick away. France can't get any real purchase on the game. The Ireland defence are on top. A delicate kick through by Conan forces a line-out in the French 22. Another great maul and Kelleher scores in the corner. Crowley again makes the touchline conversion.
Even allowing for the Willemse sending off, France were awful. Ireland played well, but won easily while still making mistakes. McCarty was monstrous and a deserved man of the match. But the whole team played well. The scrums were the only area of concern, and even they improved when the subs came on.
Ireland's line-out was flawless. Crowley controlled the game well and didn't let a few mistakes bother him unduly. He ended up bossing the game. This has been a record winning margin for Ireland in France. There are lots of work-ons for this team, but generally this team has resumed its progression to being the world's best team.