The rumble in la jungle
It was rarely pretty, there were plenty of errors and it was hardly free-flowing, but Saturday’s match between France and Ireland lived up to expectations and more. This was a meeting between the two best sides in the world, played with a burning intensity which made it hard to breathe at times.
Neither team were able to display their best with the ball in hand because they weren't allowed to – it was a match played out in the collisions, with a bit of star dust sprinkled on top by Antoine Dupont and Mack Hansen.
France will host the World Cup on home soil next year, and play the All Blacks in the curtain-raising fixture under the lights in Paris. Ireland have been grouped with South Africa and Scotland – make it through and they will play Les Bleus or New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
A potential last-eight clash between Ireland and France, at the Stade de France, would be a game for the ages.
Shaun Edwards will win France the World Cup
If France win the World Cup on home soil next year, then there should be a bald man from Wigan holding the trophy aloft at the front of the open-top bus as it coasts down the Champs-Élysées.
Everybody knew France had the ability, but in recent history they’ve lacked the discipline and work rate to make it count. Not anymore. Watching France on Saturday was like watching the All Blacks or the Australian rugby league team. Their line speed was ferocious, blue shirts smothering the first receiver every time Ireland moved the ball. Often, they were clearly offside – but their work as a defensive unit was what ultimately won them the match.
France will now surely win the Six Nations for the first time since 2010, and the title will have Shaun Edwards's fingerprints all over it. Bringing him on board in 2020 could prove to be Fabien Galthie's shrewdest move, as Les Bleus now have the steely backbone to match their mercurial talent.
Outgunned but unbowed
Ireland lost the physical battle in Paris – but not by much. There have been some tough afternoons for the Irish pack in recent history, but this crop are a bit different. Everything was in France’s favour on Saturday, from home advantage through to sheer size and weight. They even scored inside two minutes to boot – yet despite all this, the visitors didn’t wilt.
Ireland’s tackling was tireless, while their work on the ball was thankless as they were suffocated by a demonic and often offside French defence. But they kept plugging away and kept finding a route back into the game, keeping their heads above water and always giving themselves a chance of returning with a famous victory under their belts.
It wasn’t to be, and this Ireland team are too good to be satisfied with a plucky losers’ tag. But to push this France side so close with everything going against them is a testament to the ability and character of a team who are only going to get better.
Sheehan or Kelleher?
Ireland currently have the best frontrow in world rugby. Andrew Porter grew into the game on Saturday after a tough start, while Tadhg Furlong could be considered the best player in the world at the moment behind Antoine Dupont. Both of the Irish props played for 73 minutes on Saturday, which is a ridiculous shift in the modern game and highlights their ability and importance to this Ireland team.
It was intriguing, however, to see Dan Sheehan given a proper run out at hooker, rather than being saved for a late cameo. His introduction was by accident rather than design, with Rónan Kelleher forced off injured after 26 minutes. The 23-year-old flourished during his unexpected 55-minute stint, getting the set-piece basics right while also having the physicality to match the French.
If you stood Sheehan next to Keith Wood, you would struggle to believe the two played in the same position. Sheehan is built like a backrow and could even pass as a midfielder, his deft footwork into contact paving the way for Jamison Gibson-Park's sharp try as Ireland rallied.
Kelleher still deservedly holds the number two jersey but Sheehan is snapping at his heels.
Life without Sexton won’t be too bad
Johnny Sexton was roundly booed when he appeared on the big screen at the Stade de France. Ireland's talisman is able to get inside French heads like nobody else – even when he's carrying the water bottles. Obviously, the injured 36-year-old was a big miss and Ireland are still worse off without him – but there was enough in Joey Carbery's performance to suggest life after Sexton won't be too bad.
Carbery’s place kicking was excellent throughout. He exudes a calm when the ball is on the tee which passes through the team, and he nailed a couple of tough conversions from wide. With the ball in hand he was faced with a suffocating, often illegal, French defence, but he rarely panicked or made the wrong decision.
Jack Carty came off the bench for a two-minute cameo and his wild Hail Mary pass out to the left wing – when patience was needed – ended any slim hopes of a late Irish win. The Connacht outhalf deserves his chance but it is clear Carbery is the heir to the throne.