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Softies? Ireland vow to deliver physicality in Paris after Rassie's comment

Andy Farrell’s men head into Super Saturday with the Six Nations title still on the line.

Ireland are in Paris with a point to prove.
Ireland are in Paris with a point to prove.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

THERE ARE FEW things within rugby environments worse than being labeled soft.

In a sport where extreme levels of bravery are required, players take understandable pride in the physical effort they put into the game.

So it stings to get trumped in the physicality stakes, as Ireland themselves admit has happened a few times over the last 20 months.

Three consecutive defeats against England, the World Cup quarter-final versus the All Blacks, even the pool-stage loss to Japan. Each of those left Ireland’s pride wounded.

So as they get set to face a powerful France side in their Six Nations finale at the Stade de France in Paris this evening [KO 8.05pm Irish time, Virgin Media One] with the title still on the line, Ireland have been preparing themselves to unleash the purest form of physicality they can produce.

If they needed any additional motivation, hearing of Rassie Erasmus’ comment on the latest episode of the Chasing the Sun documentary might have helped.

A behind-the-scenes look at the Springboks’ World Cup success last year, the doc includes footage of Erasmus speaking to his players about Wales in the build-up to the semi-final, with the head coach keen to underline how big a challenge it will be.

“They are not softies, they’re not like Ireland,” says Erasmus.

“They’re not like England, who goes away.

“They are tough fuckers.”

irelands-james-ryan James Ryan will lead the Irish lineout again tonight. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Of course, this comment is about Wales more than Ireland and pre-match speeches always involve exaggeration to suit the agenda, but the casual manner in which Erasmus mentioned the Irish will surely not sit well with Andy Farrell’s squad as they prepare for battle with the French.

Simon Easterby, who coaches Ireland’s defence and lineout, said he had been unaware of Erasmus’ comment when asked about it yesterday, but he certainly didn’t agree with the sentiment.

“If that’s Rassie’s opinion then clearly that’s something that he has used to try and motivate his players to put in a performance against the Welsh,” said Easterby.

“It is what it is, it’s not something I’d take too much time mulling over.

“I know you’ll see a performance tomorrow that – regardless of what Rassie Erasmus has said in that quote – would suggest otherwise.

“I can’t wait to see what we’re going to deliver, the stuff from the forward pack. We’ve been working with John [Fogarty] on the scrum and the contact area, myself at the lineout.

“We have to get on the front foot, to do that we have to have a mentality and a mindset to go after the French.

“What other people’s perception of us is exactly that – it’s someone else’s opinion.

“We can only control what we can control and that is being physical. We have to win collisions, we have to do it as a unit, as a forward pack.”

France’s pack is full of power and size, from ultra-aggressive hooker Julien Marchand, to ruck-ploughing lock Paul Willemse, to dynamic back rows Charles Ollivon and Grégory Alldritt.

rugby-test-match-france-vs-wales France captain Charles Ollivon is dynamic and excellent at the lineout. Source: Poupart Julien/ABACA

So Ireland will need the stalwarts of their pack – Cian Healy, James Ryan, and CJ Stander – to deliver something ferocious as relative newcomers to the starting XV Rob Herring, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris, and Will Connors look to impose themselves.

In the backlines, les Bleus have the scintillating power of Virimi Vakatawa but Ireland have big men like Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, and Jacob Stockdale. 

“I genuinely think this team is starting to understand what it takes to be physical, what it takes to win collisions, what it takes to prevent the opposition from getting into the game with that physicality and winning those collisions,” said Easterby.

“There’s times in the last 20 months when we haven’t won those and that’s all clear for people to see.

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“But don’t underestimate what this group can do. We’re building and certainly we’ve taken a lot of positives out of last weekend [against Italy], but it is one performance and we know there’s going to be a step up again this weekend and, in particular, in that physicality and those collisions that we have to win both sides of the ball.”

Ireland are missing the power of Tadhg Furlong, Dave Kilcoyne, and Iain Henderson through injury and suspension, which could be telling as France send to plan on impact replacements like Camille Chat, Demba Bamba, and Romain Taofifenua in the second half.

Of course, there is more to this contest than the physical stakes. 

Come kick-off, England’s result in Rome [KO 4.45pm, Virgin Media One] will mean both teams in Paris know exactly what they need to win the Six Nations title.

This morning, Ireland already know a bonus-point win would guarantee the trophy. A win without a bonus point would mean the title being decided on points difference, with Ireland currently 23 points to the good in that regard. But England will expect to hammer Italy, making them favourites, while France could also win the title.

The halfback pairings of experienced Irishmen Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton versus the exciting Frenchmen Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will have as big an influence as ever, with both looking to get a balance between their kicking games and taking chances with ball in hand.

Given France’s struggles in the air last weekend against Wales, it would be a surprise if that’s not a prominent part of this encounter too.

jonathan-sexton-with-romain-ntamack Captain Johnny Sexton will be steering the ship for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

No scrum, no win – so they say in France, and it will be a key battleground for Ireland against an aggressive set-piece, while the James Ryan-led lineout must function smoothly.

Shaun Edwards’ defence will look to pressurise an Ireland attack that has played with nice width at times this year, while Farrell’s men will need to be on high-alert without the ball as the likes of Dupont and Vakatawa threaten on the back of big carries or turnover possession.

The French discipline must be considerably better than last weekend – 16 penalties conceded – and earlier this year when tighthead prop Mohamed Haouas was red-carded for punching against Scotland, while referee Wayne Barnes will have a very demanding evening at the breakdown given that both teams have very strong jackal threats.

There are so many fascinating parts of this contest, including the permutations that will be confirmed by England’s result against Italy, but Ireland will feel that if they can come out on top in the physical exchanges, they will put themselves in a decent position.

Tonight would be a very good time for Ireland to show they are no softies.

France:

15. Anthony Bouthier
14. Vincent Rattez
13. Virimi Vakatawa
12. Arthur Vincent
11. Gaël Fickou
10. Romain Ntamack 
9. Antoine Dupont

1. Cyril Baille
2. Julien Marchand
3. Mohamed Haouas
4. Bernard le Roux 
5. Paul Willemse
6. François Cros
7. Charles Ollivon (captain)
8. Grégory Alldritt

Replacements:

16. Camille Chat
17. Jean-Baptiste Gros 
18. Demba Bamba
19. Romain Taofifenua
20. Dylan Cretin 
21. Baptiste Serin
22. Arthur Retière
23. Thomas Ramos

Ireland:

15. Jacob Stockdale
14. Andrew Conway
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Hugo Keenan
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rob Herring
3. Andrew Porter
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. James Ryan
6. Caelan Doris
7. Will Connors
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. Ed Byrne
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Peter O’Mahony
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Chris Farrell

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].

Pragmatists Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella join the deludedly optimistic Gavan Casey to look ahead to the big one in Paris:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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