Après match fillet steak, a large Bordeaux and thoughts of Henderson filleting Bastareaud . . . magnifique!
Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton goes past the massive figure of Mathieu Bastareaud of France to score a try during last Saturday’s Six Nations Championship finale at the Stade de France in Paris. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Having reviewed much of last weekend with Austin Savage and co I finally said goodbye to the Barnhall Basher on Sunday evening. I then headed off to Le Grand Colbert armed with my John le Carré The Spy Who Came in from the Cold .
Not sure if I was Jack Nicholson or Keanu Reeves in Something’s Gotta Give but there was no sign of Diane Keaton floating about.
As my fillet steak and large Bordeaux arrived so too a question from about five feet away. ‘Do you mind if I ask, where you’re from?’. To this point the only remarks I’d made were in broken French to the Maitre’ D so there was no evidence of my nationality.
The questioner, Irish, was having a mighty evening and in the mood for a long engagement which was only broken when a couple arrived, the lady from California and her partner from Denmark.
I got back to my book and my steak, and as my eyes began to wander at the world going by, so too did my thoughts. What a tackle that was by Iain Henderson on Mathieu Bastareaud!
Henderson had just arrived on the pitch and found himself on the fringe of a French breakdown. Paul O’Connell was the pillar inside him, with Gordon D’Arcy the first back outside him making up the chain of three.
As France spun the ball wide the three moved up and slid out, so much so that way out in midfield towards the right-hand side, Henderson slammed Bastareaud to the deck and then rolled him over to put the ball in a vulnerable state. He’s still a child but could become a power house.
He may of course have to wait, considering Stephen Ferris, Seán O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Tommy O’Donnell, Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock, to highlight a few!
Defence is an amazing and unique aspect of our game. There is no greater feeling than the skill of going forward while avoiding the monster hits. It is only equalled by the feeling of stopping somebody going forward.
It is defined, legitimate and when executed, pure class.
Ireland’s Six Nations defence has been sensational (not to be confused by individual missed tackles that occur for every team).
Take the seemingly innocuous contact from Dave Kearney on Pascal Papé on 78 minutes 32 seconds last Saturday. Just prior to that Brian O’Driscoll flew out of the line to hit Yoann Huget, with Kearney reading the danger as he faced a two-on -one: should he stay or go?
In going, he placed massive pressure on a secondrow forward to execute the pass and crucially, he stopped Papé dead in his tracks. Had Papé continued his run after the pass the try would have been given.
The ball will always float forward on a flat pass from a forward-moving passer (jumping off a train) so if he continues his run all will look fine. It is a trick of the eyes when he is stopped in his tracks as the floating ball can deceive.
Saved the day
Kearney was aware of O’Driscoll’s decision, reacted accordingly, executed his decision and saved the day. That this was in the dying moments of a top class Test indicates a total understanding of the defensive systems.
It would be wrong in many ways to focus on the highs of the All Black and French games as the processes that are in place now are far greater witnessed in the journey from November to here. The work ethic of all was represented by Johnny Sexton, whose tries were the result of him following the ball.
Awareness, technique and execution in breakdown play has evolved rapidly. The bench, as has been highlighted, is no longer a break glass tool.
With Rob Kearney’s powerful running and on foot of our general improvements I see the next great step as an improved team counterattack and offloading game, to push us continuously further.
Tactics can be analysed for every game, with some aspects questionable, but what is unquestionable is the entire mind that makes up this Irish team is in unison.
If possible I would love to bring the GPS system to a new level where the individual mind is analysed, focusing in on the awareness and subsequent decision-making of each player over the 80 minutes. How many tonnes of data would accumulate before, at long last, all are on the same page; on top of the Championship?
After I departed Le Grand Colbert I wandered into Kitty O’Shea’s for a quiet night cap. I kid you not. I met Stephen Conroy from Clane RFC who when stumbling home late on Saturday night stopped for a moment to google map his hotel location on his phone. As it sat in his open hand it was robbed by a passerby!
Not knowing where he or his hotel was, he headed off at 4am to the only place he knew: the airport. There, he was politely told the next flight was 06.30, so he had to wait.
Luckily he didn’t buy a ticket as he woke up at 10.30 before making his way back to Paris, where Clane RFC treasurer Brian Conroy was on hand in Kitty O’Shea’s.
I trust, Austin Savage, you got back to Co Limerick; we’ll always have Paris!