France edge the fine margins but Andy Farrell can take confidence

Ireland head coach says he is proud of his players but chances were passed up

Ireland have lost their second game of the Guinness Six Nations, losing 13 - 15 to France, who hadn’t beaten Ireland in Dublin since 2011. Irish captain Iain Henderson spoke to the press after the game. Video: IRFU /VOTN

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Ireland were hit by a quadruple whammy before the game and another triple whammy early in the second half when Billy Burns, captain Iain Henderson and Cian Healy were all forced off in quick succession to undergo HIAs. Then, having fallen 15-3 behind against a French side oozing confidence from every pore, there’d have been long odds on Ireland even making a contest of this game.

Yet ultimately they were hammering away deep into overtime against a blue wall in the hunt for another Houdini-like escape to victory à la Paris 2018. Perhaps it was the memory of that endgame which stiffened French resolve to make sure history didn’t repeat itself.

True grit until the end then, but no reward other than another losing bonus point in a 15-13 defeat. Hence, for the first time since the whitewash of 1998 Ireland have lost their opening two matches.

“Mixed emotions really,” was how Andy Farrell described his feelings afterwards. “One that’s unbelievably proud of how they handled themselves this week with all the controversy etc and unbelievably proud of their efforts.

“There was a lot of lads with their workrate and putting their bodies on the line for their country but at the same time Test matches are there to be won, especially at home. And we rue a few decisions that we made when some chances came our way.

“Even though people were writing us off this week we never wrote ourselves off. The game was there to be won. It was a hard-fought contest but it’s one that slipped away from us at the end.”

Better devloped

In the heel of the hunt, France’s ability to conjure tries almost out of nothing - well, from having had little of the game until they scored the opening try in a Six Nations game for the eighth occasion in a row – was the difference.

With more ballast and footwork in traffic, they also made 11 offloads to Ireland’s three – something that hardly comes as a surprise given their offloading game is so much better developed. It’s their power and footwork which creates offloading opportunities and the support players are more alive to this too.

They also have players like Antoine Dupont, whom Ronan O’Gara puts in the Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo category of uber world-class rugby players along with Beauden Barrett, and Matthieu Jalibert, who are possibly the two most creative players in the Championship.

Hence, even with less of the possession, 45 per cent, Les Bleus were always likely to pose more of a try-scoring threat. Not only did they outscore Ireland by two tries to one (albeit James Lowe came within a veritable blade of grass of scoring the game’s first) but they had 61 per cent of the territory which demonstrated that they also won the kicking duel.

Once again, as Farrell admitted, a match slipped away from Ireland in the third quarter.

“It’s something that we certainly need to address, sit down and understand properly because I did speak about it last week and it’s something that I spoke about at half time as well.

“I thought our set-piece was really good in the first half, there was one or two things in the second half. What I also thought was good in the first-half was we kept the ball in front of the forwards coming against a really good defensive unit in France who are very good at making two-man hits and very dangerous with the ball on the floor regarding the jackler.

“We kept sending our forwards into some brick walls but look, at the same time, we had opportunities within that middle third to try and get the ball to the edge. Their wingers were obviously taking a chance coming in and jamming, and once or twice we fell into a trap on the edges and two men out got caught.

“So there were things that we could have done a little bit better and saved a bit of energy for what happened in that last couple of minutes in the long run.”

At times Ireland’s back play appeared a mite too lateral and, save for Lowe’s near miss and an opportunistic Rónan Kelleher try off a lost Irish lineout, they didn’t create any other clear chances.

“I think that comes from game management,” said Farrell. “They had a couple of chances, didn’t they, and that was it. They took their chances. They were formidable, weren’t they, when they got their chance to punch through us on first phase and get us on the back foot on the gainline on second phase and getting around the corner, getting their offload game going on a few occasions, but those were a few too many because they were clinical enough to go and score the try.

“I suppose we had one glaring opportunity that if we carry the ball another five metres and square up, we probably get that five-pointer and I think it would have drawn the game going in at half-time so it’s fine margins,” said Farrell.

“It’s fine margins. You get seldom opportunities in big games like this, especially against a side of the quality of France.

You’ve got to take your opportunities when you can. That’s what they did.”

Disruption

Henderson and Healy did eventually both return after lengthy HIAs, whereas Burns didn’t, but the squad returned to their homes after a fortnight in their bio-secure bubble before re-grouping to face Italy in Rome a fortnight hence.

Asked what were thoughts were when the trio went off, Farrell said: “I like the players that are coming on. Yeah, there might be a bit of disruption, with Iain being captain and finding cover etc, but we back the process that they go through in the week of making sure that everyone’s ready to go so it is what it is. It’s part of international rugby. It’s a fierce encounter and you’ve got to be ready for anything.

“They seem fine at this moment in time,” Farrell said of Henderson and Healy. “We’re pretty good regarding injury. There’s one or two bumps and bruises which we need to look at and obviously injuries to guys who could come back into contention pretty soon.”

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