Five talking points from Ireland’s win over France

John O’Sullivan analyses the good, bad and indifferent from a tight victory in Dublin

Victory offers an initial salve for the imperfections of performance. The review will reveal the layers, how close Ireland adhered to the pre-match playbook, the rights and wrongs of the decision-making, the accuracy levels in execution and the works-on ahead of the game against Wales in Cardiff on Friday night week.

It’s important to acknowledge the victory. Conditions in the second half were difficult with the rain, placing a huge emphasis on ball presentation and handling. It’s not a surprise that there were lapses, from both sides, in this respect.

Referee Nigel Owens also allowed a contest at the breakdown and this placed a premium on accurate and forceful clear-outs.

Ireland stood up physically in an often brutal and hugely physical battle but there were times when they could have made things slightly easier with a sharper appreciation of where the space was on the pitch.

Narrow in attack

There were occasions when Ireland got very narrow in attack – yes weather conditions were a factor to a degree but only partial mitigation – and as a result carriers took a buffeting on the fringes. The energy expended for a few metres was huge and it suited France to put their big men in the block-holes around the edge of rucks.

Ireland had to commit significant numbers at times to rescue their own ball and the French definitely edged the battle of the breakdown in the first half in terms of turnovers and penalties. The visitors also managed to slow down Irish ball and this meant that, with numbers down in the backline, Irish ball carriers were more easily identifiable and the recipients of double tackles.

On a handful of occasions in the 80-minutes there was space in the 15-metre channel out towards the touchline and in fairness to both Simon Zebo and Keith Earls that is they are at their most dangerous with a little wriggle room, as both demonstrated on the rare occasions that they got that latitude.

They are more effective in this respect and it's about maximising their impact. Garry Ringrose straightened the line superbly, an intuitive appreciation for preserving space, but repeatedly sending him into heavy traffic exacts a physical tariff.

Robbie Henshaw was quite brilliant at times in picking out soft shoulders and carrying aggressively into contact and over the gain-line, the classic illustration of this was Conor Murray's try.

There commitment and work ethic of the pack, the backrow in particular, could not be faulted and while being direct is desirable and required most of the time but there are occasions where space rather than contact will yield the tries that the hard yards have earned. Ireland need to strike a better balance going forward.

Scrum and lineout

Ireland's captain Rory Best did very well to draw the attention of Nigel Owens to the illegal binding of Rabah Slimani and Cyril Baille. The second penalty that Jack McGrath was penalised for in the scrum, when he collapsed, could have been awarded against Slimani for binding short on the arm, something he was penalised for after Best's chat, in the very next scrum. Baille too was punished for the same offence.

Ireland’s lineout was excellent all afternoon and they nicked a couple of French throws, so credit to all concerned. They caught and drove most, apart from a few, and tried to force France to concede penalties. Nit picking, opting for a few more off the top, might have won them the game of poker and got Ireland into the wider channels.

Wraparound limitations

There was a little ring rust initially in Ireland’s wrap around gambits, where the body language of the players in front never suggested they were likely recipients and this allowed the French defence to drift. Ireland were a little deep and the timing of the pass, generally back inside, was a tad premature.

Jonathan Sexton demonstrated in the 27th minute that when done in a more shallow form and with the body language of the dummy runners and the timing of the passes more sympathetic, Ireland's backs can open up the defence.

Re-starts

Camille Lopez gave a master-class in both execution and variety of his re-starts, millimetre perfect for the most part. This is an area that Ireland will have to be a little sharper the next day both on theirs and the opposition. Late on Iain Henderson showed the value of a great re-start chase. A little fine tuning is required, getting the catcher in the right position, and when it's a melee, looking to anticipate the breaking ball.

Big plays

Individuals came up with enough of these moments to secure victory and that's a huge plus going forward. The outstanding Conor Murray, made a try saving tackle on Scott Spedding, his kicks to the corner, Henshaw's line for the scrumhalf's try and the brilliant clearout by Ringrose, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton's decision to go for and land that drop goal. There are plenty of other examples. Ireland won the game the hard way and going forward they need to work on making life a little easier. It only takes a tweak here and there because the structures are solid.