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Dublin: 4°C Friday 5 March 2021

Ireland face daunting task in Paris as Six Nations heads for Super Saturday finale

Andy Farrell’s men know that a bonus-point win could secure them the title but France are far from pushovers.

IT MAY BE more than seven months later than initially scheduled but we will get our Super Saturday to finish the 2020 Six Nations after all.

Ireland will wake this morning with lingering frustrations even after a seven-try 50-17 win over Italy in Dublin yesterday but that bonus-point victory for Andy Farrell’s men keeps their title hopes alive heading into next weekend.

Eddie Jones’ England remain the favourites to secure the title as they look forward to a trip to Rome, where they will hope to rack up a big bonus-point victory to claim the championship crown.

hugo-keenan-celebrates-scoring-his-first-try-on-his-first-international-cap-with-conor-murray-and-jacob-stockdale Ireland are still alive in the Six Nations title hunt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland could guarantee themselves a Six Nations trophy by winning with a bonus point in Paris next Saturday but those Irish fans who watched the Antoine Dupont-inspired les Bleus tearing Wales apart with their attack at Stade de France last night won’t be feeling too confident about that prospect. 

Indeed, the fact that France themselves remain in contention for the Six Nations crown means Ireland’s task is all the greater.

Farrell’s men could still also win the title with a non-bonus-point victory in Paris but if they finish level on match points with England, the title will be decided on points difference.

Top of the table ahead of England and France by a single match point heading into the final round, Ireland are currently on +38 points difference while England are at +15. If it does boil down to points difference, it feels like Ireland haven’t done enough in the first four rounds of the championship.

6N Source: Six Nations

In that sense, the concession of a sloppy try to Italy with the clock in the red yesterday will have frustrated Farrell and co., while Johnny Sexton voiced his annoyance at having been intercepted for an earlier Italy try. Ireland’s poor 15-minute spell immediately after half time, leading up to that Edoardo Padovani score, was far from ideal.

Furthermore, the loss of the influential Garry Ringrose to a broken jaw doesn’t help their chances away to France.

And yet, a 33-point winning margin and seven tries were a decent return for Ireland as they resumed Test rugby after the longest break they’ve ever had from international games. Some element of scrappiness was always likely. 

There were several positive aspects for Farrell and his coaching staff to focus on if they’re inclined to point to reasons for belief heading to Paris.

edoardo-padovani-clashes-with-garry-ringrose Garry Ringrose fractured his jaw trying to block down a kick. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Irish defence was excellent after an early slip leading to Conor Murray’s yellow card, with Farrell’s men forcing 10 turnovers in the breakdown and mauls as Caelan Doris, CJ Stander, Will Connors, Tadhg Beirne, Andrew Porter, and Rob Herring showed that the refocused law interpretations very much suited this jackal-heavy Ireland side.

There were some fluid passages in attack, most notably for Sexton’s lovely second-half try, and some encouraging offloading from Ireland at times, most obviously the stunning effort from Peter O’Mahony to set up Bundee Aki’s score.

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Jacob Stockdale was part of a promising counter-attacking performance and the Irish set-piece was generally solid as their maul defence also showed up well.

The displays from man of the match Will Connors and two-try left wing Hugo Keenan on debut stole the show in an individual sense, but Murray was sharp after his early sin-bin breather, Stander and Doris were tireless, and the second row of James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne was excellent.

It will be fascinating to see if Farrell feels his starting XV needs any personnel tweaks heading to Paris but there weren’t any obviously poor individual showings yesterday. That said, there are a few horses-for-courses arguments one could make. 

While the permutations matter coming into next weekend, the reality is that France will be favourites to win at home against Ireland and have been a much-improved side in 2020 under Fabien Galthié.

Their points difference stands at +13 heading into next weekend and they will very much be aiming for a resounding win to give themselves every chance of taking advantage of any slip-ups from England in getting a bonus-point victory in Rome.

The ordering of the games for Saturday lends itself nicely to a bit of drama with Scotland v Wales at 2.15pm, then Italy v England at 4.45pm Irish time, and finally France v Ireland at 8.05pm Irish time. 

france-wales-rugby Scrum-half Antoine Dupont was superb for France in their win over Wales last night. Source: Lewis Joly

England might be out of nearly sight after a massive win in Rome, of course, but Ireland will definitely kick-off in Paris knowing they could still claim the title, even if it will take something truly special to earn that bonus-point win.

“If we defend like we defended for most of that [Italy] match, we’ll give ourselves a chance,” said Farrell yesterday at the Aviva Stadium.

“We talked about creating our own energy and our own atmosphere and that comes from your work ethic and trying to win the ball back and I thought that was fantastic.”

Meanwhile, Sexton stressed the need for Ireland to improve on what they delivered against the Italians.

“We need to sit down and have a look because some of the things that Italy did to us today, France will do to us next week, in terms of that [defensive] linespeed,” said Sexton.

“That pass I threw, we can’t do that next week. We can’t throw long passes against that rush defence, so we need to learn lessons from today.

“It’s a huge challenge to go to France and win, never mind to be talking about a bonus point. We don’t even know if that bonus point will be needed yet because England still have to go to Rome.

“But we need to focus on our performance. We’re not going to get there without a good performance so we have to focus on that and build into a massive game for us.”

- This article was updated at 9.22am to include an image of the Six Nations table. 

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Murray Kinsella

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