Sean Farrell reports from Carton House
AS PARIS EXPERIENCES go, the rugby was a forgettable spectacle when Ireland last travelled to face France in the 2016 Six Nations.
Joe Schmidt’s side, defending champions at the time, came off an opening weekend draw with Wales and suffered on the wrong end of a 10 – 9 scoreline on a dreary day in the city of lights.
What did leave a lasting impression was the heightened physicality which France were allowed to impose on the match, with a high hit on Dave Kearney and late ones on Jonathan Sexton going unchecked by Jaco Peyper.
Tolerance for dangerous tackles and hits has diminished greatly over the last year, with World Rugby directives encouraging referees to issue red cards when the head is struck by illegal tackles. So Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby trusts the officials to deal with anything resembling a repeat.
“We have to trust the guys in the middle and the fourth official making sure we get the right adjudication,” Easterby said at Carton House today.
“The game every year is becoming (more) critical of those players who go outside the law; it’s not now possible to do certain things that you used to get away with when I was playing and that is for the betterment of the game.
“I’m sure Nigel Owens and his team will have full control of that. We don’t have any concerns about what is going to happen out there and we trust the guys in the middle will be able to control things and see everything.”
A little help from the officials might go a long way to helping Ireland buck what remains a worrying trend in France, with just two Paris wins to their name in 46 years.
And while France are without a win in their last six Tests — a November draw against Japan was as good as it got since beating Wales in last year’s Six Nations – Ireland’s away form in the Championship is cause for concern.
“I wouldn’t say our away form has been poor. It has been inconsistent at times,” says Easterby when it’s pointed out that Italy represent Ireland’s only away Six Nations win since winning the title in Murrayfield in 2015.
“There’s not been a run of games where we have lost four or five on the bounce. We have picked up wins on the road, but I would say England are the only side that has consistently won away from home over the last couple of years with that long run of wins home and away.”
“Going to Paris, there is an expectation on the French team and that expectation comes from an incredible atmosphere. The crowd get behind them and we have to try and take that out of the equation and focus on our job, make sure we get our things right.”
Getting the detail right this week will be aided greatly by a clean slate on the injury front with Joe Schmidt able to pick from and train with a full deck. Munster centre Sam Arnold, not selected in the official squad, was also involved in training at the Kildare base today.