Scrum showdown awaits as French pack gears up for set-piece assault

John Fogarty has presided over one of the key bedrocks of Ireland’s game

Although John Fogarty is perhaps the least heralded of the backroom team Andy Farrell has assembled, he too has presided over one of the key bedrocks of this Irish team. Like the rest of the coaching ticket however, Fogarty knows that Saturday evening's scrum battle is probably going to be the acid test of this year's Six Nations.

Shaun Edwards was the headline appointment when Fabien Galthié announced the new French coaching ticket after the last World Cup, but co-opting Trevor Brennan's old buddy, the former Toulouse hooker William Servat, as scrum coach was an equally shrewd move.

The scrum remains a primary weapon in French rugby. Dominance there and the opposition is usually toast, and there's no doubt that France are going to come after the Irish scrum in a major way.

“They like to build momentum in their maul and in their scrum so they will certainly be looking for nice space so they can slam in and generate momentum and that’s how they use their weight,” explained Fogarty on Friday. “So it is a great challenge for us. We’re learning the whole time, that’s the exciting thing. It’s a different challenge away from home as a forward pack. We have prepped really well for it.”


A key component of Ireland's improved scrum, which dominated Wales last week, has been the seamless manner Andrew Porter has reverted to loosehead.

“It’s amazing. So much credit has to go to Andrew to be able to move like that. He’s a very impressive guy. He is still developing. That’s clear in his mind,” said Fogarty. “We know he isn’t the finished article. There is a group of frontrowers learning, from the oldest to the youngest, they are clear in their minds that they need to get better, we need to get better from game to game and take the learnings.

“But to see what Andrew has done over the last couple of years, and deal with an injury or two, I’m in admiration of the guy. He still can get better which is great and it’s exciting to see where he can take himself to.”

Not that the French threat is purely set-piece or strictly physical.

“France have a nice balance to the way they play the game. They can be very, very physical. And they can also play very quickly to space with the players they have and they then have the speed to exploit you


“There’ll be a little bit of a mix. There will be times in certain parts of the field where we have to muscle up. But in general, we’re trying to put our game on them. We want to be on our feet. We don’t want to be on the ground. We don’t want to be clustered in any part of the field. We want to be on our feet playing the game in attack and defence.

“There’s going to be a mix of us having to muscle up and playing the sort of game Faz (Andy Farrell) wants us to play. So a bit of both. Hopefully we can spend more time playing the game than in an arm wrestle.”

Galthié has reverted to the 6-2 split on the bench with the inclusion of the lock Thibaud Flament, whose route to test rugby via Belgium, Loughborough University, Argentinian club rugby with Newman and then Toulouse is perhaps the most circuitous.

This means France can finish the game with a brand new right five, which seems like a statement of intent to bully Ireland physically much as La Rochelle did to Leinster last season.

A 6-2 split carries a risk, of course, as it limits options if there is an early casualty among the backs, and somehow a traditional 5-3 split sits better with an Irish team. Ireland's bench has been replenished with the inclusion of Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw, meaning the replacements have more caps (436) than the starting XV (409), although Ireland will need a bigger impact than was the case a week ago.

“The game didn’t finish the way we wanted it to finish” admitted Fogarty. “Most players will have taken the learnings from that during the week. And the coaches would have worked through that with them.

“Again, the way we’re training, we’re not picking a XV and putting everything into them. Across the board, the players should be very clear and understand their roles in the game. Getting up to speed to where the game is at, and where the opposition is at, when you come on to the field, that can be difficult sometimes.

“We’d expect to see them come on and add. They’re well capable, we have lots of experience on that bench.”