Easterby: Ireland in full health and with clear focus on France
Simon Easterby admits a lot of homework has been done on transitional French team
Johnny Sexton in action during an Ireland training session at Carton House on Tuesday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland have no injury concerns ahead of their opening Six Nations Championship match against France in the Stade de France on Saturday (4.45pm, Irish time).
The 36-man squad all trained on Tuesday morning at Carton House and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will have a full roster from which to select ahead of the team announcement on Thursday lunchtime.
Forwards coach Simon Easterby admitted: “I don’t want to put a kibosh on it but the lads are in good form and trained well. We looked after them in the first part of the week last week in Spain and then trained them hard towards the end of it.”
Easterby explained that while France are under new management and with a sizeable turnover in personnel from the corresponding fixtures two years ago, the Irish management and players still looked back at the game largely to focus on the aspects in which they underperformed so as to avoid a repeat.
Three victories in 40 years in Paris underlines the size of the task ahead and there will be an element of goodwill for the new French coaching regime from a passionate home support, at least initially. Ireland’s goal will be trying to turn the crowd against the home side by dint of their performance.
“You have to embrace that atmosphere as well,” said Easterby. “I don’t think there is another tournament in the world where you get that sort of atmosphere in each of the grounds as you get in a Six Nations game. We had some great victories the last few years.
“Chicago against New Zealand was one of those but nothing beats the Six Nations and nothing beats the first round. We know how difficult it can be if you don’t get things right and we saw that last year going away to Scotland. It’s about us getting our own house in order.”
Ireland have lost four of the last five matches away from home in the Six Nations, a sequence they’re keen to improve upon, particularly against a French squad in transition.
Easterby said: “In terms of individuals within their squad there has been a few changes. Obviously the coaching set-up on the whole has changed but there are still plenty of individuals in the squad that were involved in the November internationals; [Guilhem] Guirado is still the captain; [Rabah] Slimani is still in there; [Sebastien] Vahaamahina and [Kevin] Gourdon – the spine of their team is reasonably similar, certainly in the pack.
“There are a couple of players who have come in with one or two caps or some who haven’t been capped before: I think there are six new caps in there. It does give them an advantage in that we haven’t seen them play together before for France but we have done a lot of homework and we know individually what they can do.
“Bordeaux-Begles have been playing a certain way under Jacques Brunel so we try and take bits from various things. Other than that we are going to focus on what we can really do well, what we can control. If we do that then we are getting the balance right, knowing that we haven’t seen them play together as a team under the new management.”
Two years ago Jonathan Sexton and Dave Kearney were the victims of some questionable tackles from Yoann Maestri and Guirado respectively but as one would expect, Easterby preferred to invest confidence that referee Nigel Owens and his team would handle any playing illegalities.
“We have to trust the guys in the middle and the fourth official, making sure we get the right adjudication. The game every year is becoming critical of those players who go outside the law; it’s not now possible to do certain things that you used to get away with when I was playing and that is for the betterment of the game.
“I am sure Nigel Owens and his team will have full control of that. We don’t have any concerns about what is going to happen out there and we trust the guys in the middle will be able to control things and see everything.
“We just want consistency. We have been aware through meetings and communication with the referees about certain things that they are going to be focusing on a little bit more. As long as we have consistency and it is the same for both sides that’s all we can ask. That allows us to prepare the players and guide them in the working week so that on the weekend they see those things pan out.”