Paris holds all the answers for Irish rugby team
Tommy Bowe expected to train with Ireland squad tomorrow
Brian O’Driscoll who received a cap for his world record of 140 caps at the IRFU dinner after the match. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Now the maths look fairly straightforward. Unless England beat Italy by 50 points or more in Rome in the first of next Saturday’s triple header, then come 6pm (5pm Irish) in the Stade de France, an Ireland win of any description will secure their first Six Nations title since 2009 and only their second championship crown since 1985.
Admittedly England know that a win of any description in the sold-out Stadio Olimpico, coupled with a draw or French win in Paris subsequently, will secure them the Six Nations title to go with their first Triple Crown in 11 years courtesy of yesterday’s 29-18 win over Wales at Twickenham.
In the unlikely event of an Italian win over England, that would create a winner-takes-all title decider between France and Ireland. Otherwise, it’s hard to see France winning the title as they currently trail England by 29 points on points’ differential. In other words, for every point England win by in Rome, that adds to France’s target of a 30-point winning margin over Ireland if they are to finish in front of Stuart Lancaster’s team.
All of which underlines the value of Ireland’s relentless pursuit of tries in their 46-7 win over Italy on Saturday in a fittingly celebratory occasion for Brian O’Driscoll’s farewell home Test on the day he became the most-capped player in the history of the game.
“It wasn’t emotional beforehand,” said O’Driscoll. “I was very focused on the game. Yeah, I got emotional at the end. It’s kind of hard to take it all in. I think maybe when I go back and look over it again I’ll probably get more emotional then. But it was very, very special, if a little embarrassing. But it was still great.”
Facing tough challenge
“I feel we have the capability of winning there, of course, more so now than at many other times that we’ve gone over there,” said O’Driscoll of next Saturday’s tilt at the title. “But we realise how tough a challenge it is. We’ve won once there in 42 years! But we feel as though when we go well we’re a difficult team to contain. We just have to get ourselves up for one massive performance.”
“We’re the last game next weekend so we’ll know exactly what we need to achieve points wise,” said Joe Schmidt, “but what we really need to do is turn up and play well on the field. I think regardless of what does happen next week we will be very much focused on trying to put the best performance we can together because I don’t think we can get too distracted by the history or by the results or points differential, and I think that’s what the players did a really good job of in the first half.
“I didn’t think there was too much panic. There was a little bit of disappointment with a few lost balls. But the fact that we were confident enough and comfortable enough to build with a really solid platform before we started stacking anything on top of it I thought was a credit to the players, and that they did show a fair bit of maturity in not trying to chase a result in the first 10 minutes.”
Encouragingly for Schmidt, who made pro-active use of his replacements’ bench, all involved emerged with pretty much a clean bill of health. Cian Healy took a knock to his ankle in scoring his 53rd minute try and according to an IRFU statement yesterday, “in an effort to expedite his recovery and limit swelling he was put in a boot overnight and is already recovering well.”
Johnny Sexton’s thumb injury was not a concern, nor Conor Murray, who was unwell the night before the game and a couple of heavy hits knocked the energy out of him, but he is expected to train fully.
Bowe to train
Schmidt indicated that Tommy Bowe will train with the squad tomorrow, and that training will be part of the selection process. Yet it’s hard to see any changes other than the return of Peter O’Mahony at blind side, not least given how well Andrew Trimble played on Saturday, with scrum-half again debate. Schmidt will announce the side and replacements earlier than normal on Thursday at 11.45am to facilitate the squad’s departure to Paris that afternoon.
“One of things I’ve always said is that I’m very much learning in this role,” said Schmidt. “I’m used to having access for 33 games a year plus pre-season games plus an extended pre-season, to the same players and being able to play different payers at different times but have as much continuity as possible. It’s a very different situation in a national team where you have 10 Test matches a year and every match is a final, and that puts pressure on to pick in-form players.”
It is a measure of how finely balanced the margins are that Paddy Powers, who make France v Ireland a scratch game after draws in both of the last two years, also cannot pick a favourite to lift the Six Nations trophy, with Ireland and England each at 10/11.
Despite another lacklustre performance and somewhat fortunate 19-17 win over Scotland, Philippe Saint-André has resisted any temptation to recall Morgan Parra or Francois Trinh-Duc, but has restored the fit again hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and number eight Louis Picamoles, in place of Castres Yannick Forestier and Antonie Claassen, to his 30-man squad.