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Farrell seems likely to stick with settled Ireland team for trip to Paris

There were lots of good performances in the 50-17 win over Italy on Saturday.

THERE WERE IMPERFECTIONS aplenty from Ireland on Saturday, as expected after so long without a game together, but just about enough positive stuff to provide a small boost of confidence.

Andy Farrell and his players won’t need reminding that this weekend’s visit to Paris will be an altogether different ball game. The Six Nations title is still up for grabs heading into Super Saturday, though it will take something special from Ireland to upset the odds and claim it.

As ever, team selection will be key this week but the initial outlook is that Farrell will be naming a settled XV on Wednesday. He will be happy at key combinations getting 80 minutes together against Italy before the France clash, including his halfbacks.

andy-farrell-speaks-to-his-players Ireland boss Andy Farrell in Dublin on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The early sin-binning wasn’t part of the plan but Conor Murray was in good form thereafter, passing intelligently and accurately when Ireland got moving forward. There was far less kicking pressure on Murray and he defended as strongly as ever. There is definitely more still to come from his sniping game but this was a fine outing.

Sexton had a couple of errors that greatly frustrated him – the intercept try and a knock-on with a promising overlap wide to the left chief among them – but also delivered lots of strong defensive moments, clever kicks, a few half-breaks, and accurte place-kicking.

The loss of Garry Ringrose in midfield is a big one but inside centre Bundee Aki was very good, combining powerful ball-carrying with incessantly loud communication and some subtle touches with and without the ball. Robbie Henshaw was sharp after replacing Ringrose and looks likely to be paired with Aki in Paris.

The return of Keith Earls to Ireland training means Farrell now has another option in his back three but the Munster man could perhaps replace Henshaw in the number 23 shirt after debutant Hugo Keenan, Andrew Conway, and Jacob Stockdale had a strong outing as the back three against Italy.

Keenan’s pair of tries were matched by aggressive tackling and his usual hard work off the ball chasing kicks and covering backfield space, while Stockdale looked content in the number 15 shirt. The Ulster man showed his attacking threat with ball in hand, while his left boot is a real weapon. The game didn’t quite flow Conway’s way as much but he has been excellent for Ireland for a long time.

In the pack, props Cian Healy and Andrew Porter had a far happier afternoon at the Aviva than had been the case for Leinster against Saracens last month. Their set-piece work was solid and Porter delivered a particularly big work-rate around the pitch.

irelands-andrew-porter Andrew Porter was excellent against Italy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ulster hooker Rob Herring made two turnovers, showed energy around the pitch, and threw well, while Connacht’s Dave Heffernan had some dynamic moments off the bench too. It remains to be seen if Leinster man Ronan Kelleher is fit this week after missing out on the Italy game and Farrell may opt to include his power if so.

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James Ryan rarely has a bad game and produced lots of examples of real quality with his lineout and maul defence, as well as in the tackle and carry, while Tadhg Beirne had one of his best games for Ireland alongside him in the second row. 

Beirne brought his usual jackal skills and mobility around the pitch but also offered notable bite at ruck time. He is not a heavy-weight ball carrier who will repeatedly dent defences like the French one, but Beirne is a very good rugby player.

Finally, the back row trio of Caelan Doris, CJ Stander, and Will Connors was excellent for Ireland. Stander is a key man thanks to his relentless physicality and jackal skills, while Doris already looks like a guaranteed first-choice player too. The 22-year-old dominates collisions, runs good lines, is quick, wins turnovers, jumps in the lineout, can pass and offload, and is also a superb maul defender.

The question marks coming into the Six Nations were over the other back row spot and Connors delivered a brilliant demonstration of his abilities as he got the first shot on Saturday. His tackling is sublime, while he had some nice passes and also added a breakdown threat. Connors isn’t a meaty carrier but uses his footwork to good effect.

Peter O’Mahony had a fine outing off the bench for Ireland, looking very motivated. He threw a stunning offload for Aki’s try and though he faced criticism for dropping a restart before Italy’s late try, he was audibly frustrated with designated lifter Heffernan not being in position to give him a boost in fielding the ball. 

irelands-caelan-doris Caelan Doris was impressive in the back row. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Of course, Josh van der Flier was unlucky to miss out altogether last weekend and one could easily make an argument for his all-action energy to be included against the French. One could also argue that O’Mahony’s experience and set-piece nous should be backed or even that Jack Conan’s dynamism would be useful at Stade de France.

With the likes of Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Jamison Gibson-Park, and Ross Byrne having decent cameos off the bench, there doesn’t seem any great need for wholesale changes there either as Ireland head to France looking for a big result.

“Just to win in Paris is very tough,” said Farrell on Saturday. “We all know that. The squad that they picked [in their win over Wales] is a very strong squad, so to go over there and get any form of win would be a tremendous achievement.

“We’re certainly not getting ahead of ourselves and being brash enough to say we’re going to go over to Paris as though everything is going to go according to plan and we will come up smelling of roses, you know, that we are going to get four tries against them.

“I’m sure Shaun [Edwards, France's defence coach] would have something big to say about that.

“So we just have to concentrate on the performance. We have got to make sure that we tidy up a few things that we have learned from today. We have to finish off the tournament well and hopefully that gets us through.”

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Murray Kinsella

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