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The Five Things We Learned From Ireland's 'Job Done' Win Over France

The Five Things We Learned From Ireland's 'Job Done' Win Over France

It might not have been the prettiest game in the world, but given Ireland's wretched start, the terrible conditions, and the bruising physicality that all of the recent Ireland-France games have had, Joe Schmidt and Ireland will have been delighted to get out of the Aviva Stadium with a ten point win this evening. There was plenty to learn from our fourth win in five games against the French.

1. Johnny Sexton is Ireland's most important player: 

This shouldn't be news to anyone, but only two or three days ago, there were calls for Paddy Jackson to retain his place in the team.

Jackson is playing very well, but today proved once and for all that Ireland with Johnny Sexton at 10 are a completely different team.

The stats? 3/3 from the tee, a drop goal, Ireland's biggest ball carrier (making 67 metres) and 10 tackles made behind only Stander and Heaslip who both had 11).

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But the stats don't tell the story. Sexton was majestic all day, and especially when Ireland properly got going after the first twenty minutes. Everything Ireland did in attack came from the out-half, be in it a brilliant kicking display, opening up the defence with the patented Sexton loop pass, or just by making smart and innovative decisions.

This may have resulted in a turnover, but only after Ireland won two more penalties. The fact that he seen the opportunity and went for it gives Ireland something that very few out halves provide.

Sexton's ability to marshal an attack in unparalleled, as his ability to come back from injury without any apparent rustiness. Conor Murray may have won the CJ Stander award for today's match, but his form is massively affected by the man outside him too. Together, their dual ability to move the ball confounds defences.

It's clear that eaten bread is soon forgotten when it comes to the rugby media's treatment of Sexton in Lions conversations. It's hard to argue that he's still the best out-half in the world when on form and fit. Expect the Lions talk to be suddenly back on the agenda tomorrow morning.

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2. Bonus point rugby has been a huge success - And are Ireland playing it well. 

Last year's Six Nations was a turgid affair. Kick and chase was seemingly the only tactic available. And while the prevailing style of rugby being played worldwide has changed in the 12 months since, it's clear that the bonus points are playing an important role in applying that to the often conservative championship.

Ireland continuously passed up chances to kick at goal in the first half today. Afterwards, Joe Schmidt said it was an on-field decision based on the feel of the game, and not a tactic. But you have to feel that Ireland have bonus points on the mind

At half time, and at 7-6, it wasn't clear if this was a little too gung-ho for a game against France, but with the change of ends, and a change of weather, Ireland adjusted in the second half and started taking their kicks, and even a drop goal.

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Whether it was a pre-ordained plan or not, the Irish players knew that in the first half of the game, the chances could be taken. They could put France out of sight and be well on their way to the four-try haul they wanted. When that didn't materialise, they made sure they won the game. That's mature rugby and is even more impressive if, like Schmidt says, it isn't coming from the coaching team.

The expansive rugby Ireland tried throughout the course of the game is a little undermined by the one try return, but in general, Ireland have incorporated an offload game that just wasn't there in the early Schmidt years.

Here again, Sexton sees the play in front of him beautifully and makes an attacking decision. That's half the battle, but from there, the Ireland players look full of confidence in their own skill and it's a breath of fresh air to see.

Too many times against Scotland we were back to the old fashioned Ireland way of "pass to static forward - breakdown - pass to static forward - breakdown etc." kind of play that has dogged Irish rugby for years. Today, they were more dynamic throughout, even if it didn't result in tries.

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Ireland had seven offloads today, officially, though it felt a lot more, and is something that should continue to improve with the current style of rugby. We might not have got the bonus point today, but Ireland are at least a team always in search of it, and that is something that should pay off in the long run.

3. Red zone efficiency a real worry for Ireland:

Ireland had 68% territory, yet scored just one try. Their domination of the possession wasn't reflected on the scoreboard, and came from a lot of unforced errors.

Rory Best said after the game that they felt they continuously made mistakes when they were just one or two phases away from the French running out of numbers. That seemed to be the case constantly during the game. It happened again, and again, and again.

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(France messed up the scrum from this one, and we got three points... but still!)

You get the idea!

Obviously, given what happened in Rome, and even our relative potence in attack in Scotland, we can't yet consider this a trend for Ireland, but it will be a worry.  The coaches and players are blaming conditions and it does seem as though the ball was a bar of soap out there, but the rain didn't come down until the 5th minute of the second half...

4. Ireland have virtually perfected their kicking game:

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Scott Spedding didn't quite look like 2015 Alex Goode out there today, but he wasn't far off in the second half. His mistakes came from constant pressure that Murray and Sexton were putting him under from the opening kick off.

It's not long since we all bemoaned Ireland's over reliance on the "up and under", but as the team has evolved, and they've used it less, it's become an incredible weapon. The first two kicks of the game, from Murray and Sexton, may have been technically unsuccessful, but they caused chaos in the French defence, and laid the foundations for the mistakes that were to come later in the game.

Keith Earls, starved of ball on the wing today, spent most of his day chasing kicks down the right wing and forcing France into giving up territory and possession to Ireland. A couple of years ago, Tommy Bowe was lauded for his kick chasing, but now it seems the entire team specialises in the art.

Beyond the up and under, Ireland's tactical kicking was top notch all day. They kicked 31 times in what didn't feel like a kicking game, and Ireland's domination of territory (68%) reflected how well those kicks worked.

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5 .The Andy Farrell defensive system is starting to hold its own:

No tries conceded in two Six Nations games is nothing to be sneezed at. It's arguable that neither Italy or France tested Ireland in the way Stuart Hogg and Scotland exposed them in Murrayfield, but even still.

Today, it felt as though that wouldn't be the case in the first quarter of the game. French seemed to be able to break the Irish line at will and we weren't far away from the dreaded "French Flair" being bandied about Lansdowne Road. "Allez Les Bleus" was ringing around and Ireland got very lucky when Remi Lamerat got over in first half. It was called back from a slight knock on, and Ireland got away with giving away just a three-pointer to Lopez.

After that, France never really threatened though, and for that the defensive system must be commended. A couple of break aways that came from the aforementioned Irish errors with the ball in hand was all they could muster for the final 60 minutes of the game. Keith Earls covered one overlap perfectly, getting balls and man, but other than that, there was little threat.

Aiding the defence, as always, is a solid set piece game. Ireland's lineout was statistically flawless today, ending any worry that Edinburgh was any more than a blip. The scrum, so dominant so far this year, looked a bit more under pressure than it had so far this season. France's decision to go for another scrum, after winning a penalty before their disallowed try suggested Ireland would have problems in the area. But when Ireland got the chance to do the same thing in the French 22 not long after, they did and Murray's try came two phases later. For the rest of the game, the scrum stood strong and remains a strength of the team ahead of Wales and England.

 

 

Michael McCarthy