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Beirne braced for breakdown battle in Paris with Barnes not ruled out as ref

Ireland and France both have strong jackal threats in their teams.

THE BREAKDOWN IS always a huge challenge for any match official but this weekend’s game at Stade de France in Paris going to take some particularly strong refereeing in that area.

Ireland’s intent to win breakdown turnovers was obvious throughout their win over Italy last Saturday as Andy Farrell’s men earned eight of them during their 50-17 victory.

A few hours later, France aggressively attacked the Welsh breakdown with their own jackal threats, conceding a host of penalties but also showing their ability to poach successfully.

south-africa-v-italy-pool-b-2019-rugby-world-cup-shizuoka-stadium-ecopa Wayne Barnes hasn't been ruled out of Saturday's game. Source: Adam Davy

Wayne Barnes is the appointed referee for Saturday’s Six Nations battle in Paris. The Englishman missed last weekend’s Premiership final due to a positive Covid-19 test but The42 understands that he hasn’t yet been ruled out of the France v Ireland clash.

An official update is due from World Rugby, who appoint match officials, on Thursday. It’s unclear who would replace Barnes if he is not available. Matthew Carley and Karl Dickson are due to be the assistant referees.

If Barnes can take up his appointment, he will likely be kept busy as both teams look to steal possession at the breakdown, which has been a fascinating part of the game since the post-Covid restart due to World Rugby re-emphasising the existing laws.

We have seen jackals – players who look to steal the ball at the breakdown – getting greater and earlier reward overall, so it was no surprise to see Ireland’s jackal-heavy pack of forwards doing some real damage in this area against Italy last time out.

Tadhg Beirne was among the main threats for Ireland and while he feels the breakdown is now safer for jackals, there is still some side entry by attacking players being missed.

“When rugby first came back you could see a lot more penalties going, there’s definitely a sway more towards the poacher but probably not as much as when we first came back,” says Beirne. “That’s just my own personal view on it.

“Even in some of the rucks in some games, there’s lads still getting away with in-the-sides but that’s something I’m looking out for because I’m usually someone who would be over the ball.

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irelands-tadgh-beirne Beirne is a specialist at the breakdown. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s a very difficult area to ref but I definitely feel like the poacher is being better looked after than they were a year ago. That’s good to see and it probably gives a lot of lads more comfort and confidence about going after the ball in those areas because they don’t have to ‘survive’ as long and risk getting their heads or knees taken from them.”

Beirne’s second-half turnover in Italy territory led to Bundee Aki’s try via a superb Peter O’Mahony offload, while Ireland also scored directly from a Caelan Doris turnover in their own 22 in the first half, Hugo Keenan finishing after Conor Murray’s excellent kick.

Those tries underline how Farrell and his Ireland coaches have been stressing to their players the quality of attacking opportunity that turnovers can create.

“It’s an area we’re looking at targeting,” explains Beirne. “It’s an area where we have a lot of players in the squad who are really good over the ball and you saw that on Saturday across the board.

“It wasn’t just one player who was topping the charts in terms of turnovers. It was a lot of different individuals coming away with good turnover ball, which is great to see and gives us a much better opportunity around the park to play off turnover ball.

“There’s a lot of space when that does happen so there’s a massive emphasis on us going after the ball but also being smart around it and not over-committing and that’s something we’re getting better at.”

gregory-alldritt France number eight Alldritt is a major jackal threat. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Of course, the French are lethal on turnover possession and they have plenty of their own jackal threats in the likes of Grégory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Julien Marchand, Virimi Vakatawa, and Camille Chat.

That said, the French were poorly disciplined against Wales last time out and eight of their 16 overall penalty concessions came at the breakdown.

Nonetheless, Beirne is expecting Ireland to face a huge tussle to retain their possession.

“All teams are going hard at the breakdown and it’s so important to secure your own ball,” says the second row.

“We’re working on that just as much as any other area. We have to look after our own ball going up against a side like France who make a lot of turnovers.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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