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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 6 May 2021

6 talking points after Joe Schmidt's Ireland see out victory over France

Kick chase, Sexton’s return, the frantic finale, restart, and a rare win over France.

IRELAND RECORDED AN 18-11 victory over France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin this evening to make it two wins from two in the Six Nations.

Read our match report on the encounter here.

Sexton’s sharpness

12 weeks out? You might not have guessed it in the first half as Johnny Sexton delivered a sharp performance with ball in hand. One early poor pass aside, his distribution was clean and zippy, while he ran from threatening flat positions.

Jonathan Sexton Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Ireland out-half’s kicking from hand was exceptional too, particularly a pair of diagonal wiper kicks in behind the uncomfortable Teddy Thomas. Off the tee, Sexton was flawless too.

His eight-minute hit on Mathieu Bastareaud was an outstanding moment, as he went in typically high, rode the France centre’s wave of power and wrapped in on the ball to initiate a wonderful choke tackle.

Sexton started the second half with two unsatisfactory kicks from hand, before his bomb allowed Rob Kearney to win the ball over Scott Spedding. The clash of heads with Bastareaud was sickening and led to 10 worrying minutes in the concussion bin.

When the Ireland out-half returned, his unsympathetic pass to Jared Payne allowed a superb try-scoring chance to go amiss when there were a number of options available. A world-class player finding his feet again, but the signs were mainly positive.

Hammered at the breakdown

Ireland’s major first-half issue was a lack of impact at the breakdown, the French repeatedly managing to either slow Schmidt’s men down on the ground or win turnover penalties.

Mathieu Bastareaud Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Time and again, the Irish ball carrier went to deck under immediate pressure from a French jackal, with the support players slow to arrive and then unable to shift the likes of Bastareaud and Thierry Dusautoir.

Fortunately, France lacked discipline in this area too, losing their feet at important times and providing referee Wayne Barnes with the opportunity to give Ireland a pair of chances to shoot at goal.

Still, the lack of impact at the breakdown at times against the French leaves Schmidt and Ireland with something very important to work on ahead of the visit of England in two weekends’ time.

Kick chase

Schmidt is an advocate of aggressive kick chasing, and his Ireland team continue to improve on an already high base level in this area. Tommy Bowe was particularly effective under the kicks of Sexton and Conor Murray.

Robbie Henshaw tackles Wesley Fofana Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Elsewhere, Robbie Henshaw hounded Wesley Fofana, Simon Zebo got involved and Kearney made some excellent tackles even when France’s back three managed to take their catches on the ground.

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It was noticeable that Ireland simply wouldn’t stand off on their chase, there was no waiting to get the perfectly straight and stacked defensive line. Instead, Schmidt demanded his backs and back row smother the French kick receivers and Ireland made vital territorial gains because of that.

Restarts reign supreme

For the second week in a row, Ireland showed some vulnerability under the opposition restarts, but their own efforts in this sector were superb. Twice in the first half, Schmidt’s side regathered their restarts to pressure the France defence and draw six points from penalties.

Tommy Bowe and Scott Spedding Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Bowe was the designated chaser in this regard, as Sexton’s remarkably accurate restarts found the Ulster wing running onto the ball and tapping it back on the Ireland side in the air. On another occasions, Bowe bundled Spedding into touch.

When Ireland have an aerial competitor of Bowe’s quality, it makes real sense to go after the ball on restarts, while Sexton’s accuracy with his drop kicks ensures shorter options are worth further exploring.

France finish with momentum

Just like in Paris last year, France finished the game with a grip on the momentum, first scoring through replacement lock Romain Taofifenua after an impressive, flowing attacking that featured some sharp passing and real power.

Rory Best being in the bin at that stage was hugely unhelpful.

Simon Zebo and Jamie Heaslip with Rémi Lamerat Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Les Blues threatened again down the left with 75 minutes gone, Remi Tales’ tip-up pass going agonisingly close to landing in Fofana’s hands with the tryline begging. Ireland exited, but again France came back with ball in hand.

Paul O’Connell spoke yesterday of his ongoing annoyance over events in Paris last year, when Pascal Papé’s forward pass let Ireland off the hook, and there were echoes of that incident in the tense endgame in Dublin this evening.

The introduction of Morgan Parra made a telling difference for France and Schmidt’s men did appear to fade to a degree, but Ireland will take some pride in having held out to secure the 18-11 win. As ever, much to work on ahead of England.

No sneering at beating les Blues

Yes, there are many areas for Ireland to improve on and a try would have been hugely welcome, but we can’t sneer at a win over France. This is perhaps not a vintage version of les Blues, but they have quality, power and skill.

Cian Healy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It will be interesting to follow how this win is perceived by critics and supporters, and any unhappiness with the display may be a sign of how far Ireland have progressed.

In terms of the Six Nations, two wins from two is a satisfying return from this opening block of games, leaving Ireland well set up to welcome the English. In a World Cup year, a win over the French is something to be appreciated.

England padded their points difference with a second half rout of Italy

O’Connell still annoyed by Paris endgame as he seeks out another rare win over France

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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