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Dublin: 18 °C Friday 19 April, 2019
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Big performance against les Bleus can ease concerns over Schmidt's Ireland

The home side have named 13 of the starting team that beat the All Blacks back in November.

IRELAND THEMSELVES HAVE been smiling at some of the concern and panic around their form in this Six Nations.

Drop Johnny Sexton, drop Conor Murray, rip up the game plan, no Plan B, Joe Schmidt is leaving and the players have lost focus, Ireland peaked too soon in 2018, they’ve been figured out, they need to go on the piss.

The suggestions and theories around this Ireland team have abounded in recent weeks, but there is one simple way Schmidt’s team can put the chatter to bed. 

Ireland players and IRFU President Ian McIlrath before the team photo Ireland at yesterday's captain's run. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A strong showing on home soil today – where the most recent memories are of Ireland being beaten by England – against France [KO 3pm] would settle things down. It might not silence the longer-term critics of Schmidt’s methods, but a convincing and confident win would change the narrative.

Ireland, as ever, will have been focusing on the factors that produce a performance, rather than the plot devices that everyone else has been spinning around them.

Passing skills will have been attended to, the lineout will likely be boosted by six changes to the pack, the scrum bolstered by the returning Cian Healy and Rory Best, the overall control accentuated by Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton having more game time under their belts.

Simply not repeating the copious handling errors that blighted them in Rome will go a long way towards Ireland finally clicking into the attacking flow that they stress has only marginally eluded them so far in the Six Nations.

A repetition of that slippery-handed performance and les Bleus will tear Schmidt’s side apart. Italy showed their improvement on counter-attack against Ireland at Stadio Olimpico, but France are on another level in this department.

Their Toulouse core of scrum-half Antoine Dupont, out-half Romain Ntamack and fullback Thomas Ramos are comfortable in chaos, although Ireland will be determined to show these Toulousains are less comfortable in the ultra-pressurised demands of playing against one of the best Test teams in the world.

Rory Best Rory Best will hope to be part of an improved lineout. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With seven changes to his starting team for today, Schmidt has 13 of the XV who beat the All Blacks in November back in situ, with plenty of this side more than familiar with how to turn the screw and ruthlessly expose any opposition weaknesses.

Captain Best’s usual levels of calm leadership will be welcomed back, while caller Iain Henderson, lock partner James Ryan and the springy Peter O’Mahony will be focused on avoiding the potential pitfalls of a dangerous France defensive lineout.

Tadhg Furlong and his front row partners will be cognisant of the grunt in France’s scrum, which now includes 20-year-old tighthead Demba Bamba, but will back themselves to rediscover their destructive scrummaging form of November.

Murray and Sexton’s search for their best form will be fascinating to watch again – they have made body language experts of us all – but the halfbacks will likely benefit from the return of the influential Garry Ringrose at outside centre.

The 24-year-old will have a busy defensive shift with the power of Mathieu Bastareaud and Gael Fickou – they have guile too – in opposition but Ringrose’s footwork and distribution could be key to unlocking Ireland’s best attacking form.

With the glue-like Bundee Aki alongside him, a settled back three of Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale and Rob Kearney outside, as well as the work-rate of CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier in the back row, Ringrose is part of a very strong Ireland team.

Jonathan Sexton Ireland were in relaxed form yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

France have weapons, that we know, but Ireland’s teamsheet strength should give the home supporters some belief that Schmidt’s side can quell the worries around them with a powerful display in Dublin.

If not, that concern will likely take on a more hysterical edge. 

Ireland:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. John Ryan
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Jack Conan
21. John Cooney
22. Jack Carty
23. Jordan Larmour 

France:

15. Thomas Ramos
14. Damien Penaud
13. Mathieu Bastareaud
12. Gael Fickou
11. Yoann Huget
10. Romain Ntamack
9. Antoine Dupont

1. Jefferson Poirot
2. Guilhem Guirado (captain)
3. Demba Bamba
4. Felix Lambey
5. Sebastien Vahaamahina
6. Wenceslas Lauret
7. Arthur Iturria
8. Louis Picamoles

Replacements:

16. Camille Chat
17. Etienne Falgoux
18. Dorian Aldegheri
19. Paul Willemse
20. Gregory Alldritt
21. Baptiste Serin
22. Anthony Belleau
23. Maxime Medard

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe [New Zealand].

Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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