Ireland need to forget about being brave in defeat and accept their shortcomings

Andy Farrell and his management must be bold in the team selection against Italy
Ireland need to forget about being brave in defeat and accept their shortcomings

Gaël Fickou of France is tackled by Robbie Henshaw and Ross Byrne of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

THEY were courageous, honest and never gave up, but Ireland will know they were lucky and on any other day the deficit on the scoreboard would have been a lot worse.

Apart from one or two brief periods in this game, Ireland were much better off without the ball and that is not how the game should be played. It is also a condemnation of the Irish coaching ticket.

If Farrell is hell-bent on having defensive structures that force the opposition into making errors, may I suggest he returns to the code that made him a household name in England?

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.

On at least three occasions France came within a whisker of crossing the white-wash but for some uncharacteristic handling errors and over-enthusiasm by their forwards. Ireland could have found themselves in a damage limitation scenario, rather than looking to win it in the dying seconds.

Ireland had more possession than the visitors but it was telling that only on one occasion did they manage to cross the line. That one try was a result of a fumbled lineout by France and a fortuitous bounce of the ball.

James Lowe, who had a great game, was unfortunate in the first half when his toes rubbed off the touchline. Apart from that Ireland could be there 'til next week and they still wouldn’t muster up a reasonable amount of go-forward phases to outsmart or overpower the French defence.

As expected, Ireland put massive pressure on the French line-out and this reduced the amount of clean ball that Antoine Dupont had to play. Yet when the French did manage to hit their jumpers towards the tail, it gave a powerful midfield the perfect platform to smash their way over the gain-line.

Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw will be very sore for the next few days and their shoulders will need plenty of ice and rest because whenever their opposing numbers Arthur Vincent and Gael Fickou received the ball, they ran with the same kind of tenacity that you see when a bull charges for a red cape.

Referee Luke Pearce checks on Iain Henderson of Ireland after he was involved in a clash of heads. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Referee Luke Pearce checks on Iain Henderson of Ireland after he was involved in a clash of heads. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Speaking of red, mercifully we see the referee dismiss any player like we did last week and during Saturday’s clash between Scotland and Wales. 

I am 100% for player safety but there needs to be consistency and a very clear understanding between accidental foul play and intentional.

For me, the red card brandished towards Scotland’s Zander Fagerson was at the very most a penalty and it undoubtedly cost them the game. I’m sure some would disagree with me however, if Fagerson had intentionally intended to make contact with his opponent’s head, the damage would have been far worse. 

The Scottish prop had zero time to readjust his height and there was no way he could have pulled out unless he had a parachute that he could have deployed. I guess we’ll see what further punishment is handed out when his case is heard.

LACK OF FOCUS

In the build-up to this do or die game for Ireland there was a massive amount of focus placed on Johnny Sexton's concussion-related injuries.

The French, as only the French can do, stirred it up magnificently in the media and while Sexton failed his return-to-play protocols and his jersey went to Billy Burns, I believe it affected Ireland's preparations as too much focus was placed on just one man.

I guess it was nice to see Burns receive the backing of his management. However, he is not the answer as Sexton’s replacement. His lack of focus was once again displayed when he missed a very easy three points with his opening penalty.

To be fair apart from the missed shot at goal, Burns, who got stick because of his schoolboy error against Wales, didn’t do a whole pile wrong. Yet when you are afforded your opportunity to shine in sport, you better take it because there are always pretenders waiting for their opening.

When you look at the two-point discrepancy in the score and at the quality of players that Ireland had sidelined, you could argue that this is a game that Ireland could have and should have won. 

That’s not how professional sport works.

The difference in how the French went about looking to keep the ball alive and how Ireland were just happy to recycle was signified in both backrow units.

I fully realise how brave and committed CJ Stander is to Munster and Ireland, but his ball-skills are non-existent.

Every time Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt or, particularly, French captain Charles Ollivon took the ball into contact there was a concerted effort to off-load to a link runner, thus keeping the ball alive and affording the next wave of French support players to hit the gain-line at pace.

Stander and most of the Irish forwards are drilled to head straight for an opponent, go to ground and place the ball. It sounds like a drill you’d coach a group of U10s, not an international side who have dreams of winning a World Cup.

Ireland's James Lowe dejected after the game. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland's James Lowe dejected after the game. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The good news for Farrell and his players now is that they have a two-week rest period and their next game is a guaranteed win against the hapless Italians.

Nothing less than a complete demolition will be acceptable from this game and I would expect that there will be big changes to the starting 15 for it.

Any hopes of doing well in this year’s championship are now fully extinguished but there is a great opportunity for this squad to experiment, tinker with and improve how they play.

We live in hope.

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