Rugby Stats: Ireland have found bonus territory hard to come by against the best
Andy Farrell’s side look like they’ll need a bonus point win in Paris – it will be hard work
Conor Murray celebrates after scoring Ireland’s third try during the game against New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago in November 2016. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
On Saturday night in Paris the likelihood is that Ireland will need to secure a bonus-point victory over France to secure the 2020 Six Nations Championship title. It’s predicated on the assumption that Eddie Jones’s England team will boast a superior points difference following a win against Italy in Rome earlier that afternoon.
It begged a question as to how many times an Ireland team has scored four tries in a Test match against ‘power teams’. For the purposes of the exercise, this column had a look at Irish playing records against France, England, New Zealand and South Africa over the last 20 years, dating back to 2000.
During that time-frame Ireland played 77 Tests cumulatively against the countries in question and on just six occasions (7.9 per cent) has the national side managed that milestone.
Five times an Irish team scored four tries and once against New Zealand in Chicago they crossed for five in that famous 40-29 victory, one that represented a first win for the men’s senior team over the All Blacks.
The first time that Ireland managed that feat was coincidentally against the French in a Six Nations game at the Stade de France in 2006. The visitors trailed 43-3 at half-time before second-half tries from Gordon D’Arcy, Donncha O’Callaghan, Ronan O’Gara and Andrew Trimble allowed Ireland to salvage some pride, eventually going down 43-31 as they held their hosts scoreless after the interval.
The recently re-elected president of the French Rugby Federation and vice-chairman of World Rugby, Bernard Laporte, was the French coach and in the aftermath he was apoplectic at the manner in which the home crowd booed his team in the second half that day. He said afterwards: “I wish we could get more [rugby club] volunteers in the crowd. They would be better at supporting France. I’d put those f**king bourgeois on the pitch.”
It was the words of the then France team manager Jo Maso that carried a certain resonance looking ahead to the weekend when there will be no supporters in the ground due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He said at the time: “When Ireland were 43-3 behind their supporters began chanting, whereas when we were 43-10 up our supporters began to whistle when we missed touch.
“Our public needs to learn to support the side or else I don’t know what we should do. Play behind closed doors perhaps?”
Ireland assistant coach Simon Easterby was a member of the backrow that day in Paris. Later that year he was also part of the matchday squad that saw Ireland beat South Africa 32-15 at Lansdowne Road, helped by tries from Marcus Horan, Shane Horgan, Trimble and David Wallace.
In 2007, Ireland beat England 43-13 at Croke Park with tries from Girvan Dempsey, Wallace, Horgan and Isaac Boss. The current Irish head coach Andy Farrell played in the centre for the visitors. Three years later in an Irish side lost 66-28 in New Zealand to the All Blacks with Dan Tuohy, Brian O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe and D’Arcy the try scorers. Cian Healy started that day with Johnny Sexton on the bench.
There is a six-year gap (2016) to the aforementioned game in Chicago when Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Robbie Henshaw crossed the All Blacks line as Joe Schmidt’s team scored five tries. Roughly half of Ireland’s matchday 23 for this Saturday’s game against France were in action in Chicago.
There was an even greater representation from the current crop when Ireland beat South Africa 38-3 at the Aviva Stadium in 2017. Andrew Conway (try), Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale (try), Johnny Sexton, Murray, Healy and Stander started against the Springboks while Rob Herring (try) and James Ryan were among the replacements. Rhys Ruddock was the other Irish try scorer.
During the period under review, Ireland failed to score a try against the four countries in question on 15 occasions with the French leading the way with six shutouts; three of which were in Dublin, two at the Stade de France and a 2011 World Cup warm-up match in Bordeaux.
So if Ireland requires a victory embellished with four tries on Saturday night in Paris to win the Six Nations title then they will have to defy the odds.