Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ireland captain James Ryan was left dejected.
Breakdown woes of chief concern as Ireland look to learn from Paris pain
Struggles to ‘exit’ from their own 22 were also damaging for Andy Farrell’s side.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 14th 2022, 12:00 PM

IAIN HENDERSON DIDN’T have to think for long when he was asked which areas of the game had been the key differences between France and Ireland on Saturday night.

“Probably around the breakdown,” answered the Ulster man, who came off the bench for Peter O’Mahony in the second half as Ireland gave France a fright by making a real contest of it.

There were lots of positive points for Ireland to take away from a 30-24 defeat, with head coach Andy Farrell “unbelievably pleased” with his side’s character.

But an honest review of Ireland’s performance underlines the impression that all of us had watching the game – France did serious damage to Ireland at the breakdown.

Les Bleus made nearly every breakdown a battle for Ireland. They either had technically astute and brave defenders like Grégory Alldritt and Gabin Villière jackaling to slow and win the ball, or they hammered in on the counter-ruck to ruin Ireland’s chance of quick ball.

Having enjoyed 71% quick ball [a breakdown that lasts less than three seconds] against Wales a week earlier, Ireland had just 53% against the French.

There were massive moments in the game at the breakdown. Take, for example, the huge counter-rucking effort from replacement France lock Romain Taofifenua in the 54th minute that forced the ball loose from an Ireland breakdown in their own 22 and allowed Cyril Baille to blast over for a crucial try two phases later.

First-half jackal penalties won by Villière and lock Paul Willemse directly resulted in six points for the French as they built a nice lead. The list goes on. It was very bad business for Ireland.

“We had tried to identify a few things they did in previous games,” said Henderson. “They throw a lot of people into rucks, try to make it scrappy.

iain-henderson-makes-a-break-with-jamison-gibson-park Billy Stickland / INPHO Henderson carries for Ireland. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Obviously, the way we like to play, we like to play probably a slightly tidier game in terms of the numbers in breakdowns. We probably fell into their traps a number of times putting too many in and that would leave us skinny in other places.”

Meanwhile, Ireland struggled to get their ‘exits’ right in this game, again to damaging effect. 

France’s early opening try came from a poor kick to touch from Jamison Gibson-Park, with chasing wing Mack Hansen turning his back as Antoine Dupont threw in a quick lineout.

In the 15th minute, Ireland failed to exit again as Willemse pounced for his aforementioned breakdown penalty, while the second half included the Taofifenua turnover as Ireland attempted to exit – just minutes after another poor exit kick over on the left that Hansen knocked-on.

“I suppose exit was the main thing, we didn’t do it well enough today and left them with a few opportunities,” said Gibson-Park post-match.

“It’s very difficult when the crowd is behind them, they are a big physical team getting over the gainline, they are incredibly difficult to stop. Just thinking if you do get a chance to exit, exit clinically and give yourself a chance to get an opportunity.”

Despite those issues, Henderson underlined that Ireland maintained major self-belief even as they trailed 19-7 at half-time then conceded another three points just after the break. It wasn’t long before Ireland pulled back to 22-21 and set up a thrilling endgame.

“We had a good chat at half-time,” said Henderson. “Although it might not have seemed it at times in the first half, we felt we were fully in it. That transpired in the second half and we went into it with full belief that we could do it.

“Right until the very end of the game, we thought we were in to win it. But unfortunately towards the end, it just didn’t work out for us.”

Ireland legend Rob Kearney joined host Seán Burke, Murray Kinsella and Eimear Considine for the first episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness. Rob ​​speaks about his most euphoric moment in a green jersey, life after retirement, a “brutal” return to the GAA pitch, and his skincare routine. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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