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Analysis: Shutting down Picamoles will go a long way to securing Ireland win

We look at the obvious strengths of Les Bleus’ back row powerhouse and some defensive options Ireland may take.
Mar 13th 2014, 7:39 PM 5,186 4

“HE MAKES YARDS that he has no right to. He’s such a big unit. He’s got good fight in the legs and gets over for tries when you think you have him; eeks out another few metres and he’s over the line.”

- Mike Ross [Ireland prop]

Philippe Saint-Andre made one of the smartest decisions of his Test managerial reign today when he recalled Louis Picamoles to his starting XV. Why he has shifted Picamoles from No.8 to flanker — a position he has never started at in his 41 caps — remains a mystery. Saint-Andre may simply be planning to spring the Toulouse forward in backline moves but tying him into scrums will be music to Irish ears.

Since displacing Imanol Harinordoquy as France’s first-choice No.8, Picamoles has built up some impressive statistics as a ball-carrying attacker. He averages two offloads and two beaten defenders per game and earns his team a little over 55 metres. He has thrived against England and Ireland in recent encounters but Scotland have been effective in keeping him [relatively] quiet. In his two games against Ireland he has made a combined 196 metres, beat seven Irish defenders and successfully offloaded four times. Last March, he also did this:

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

Before we look at ways Ireland can attempt to shut the big man down, we will assess the strongest parts of his game. The composite Picamoles burst will contain furiously pumping legs a beaten defender and a fend-off. If he feels he will be brought to ground, his first instinct is to offload rather than going to ground. He also has the presence of mind and awareness to gain the maximum attacking advantage for his team, no matter how much the opposition may feel he is covered.

The clip below sums up everything commendable about Picamoles game. He secures turnover ball at a Racing Métro ruck [50 seconds in] and goes to ground under pressure from three men. He rejoins the Toulouse drive, takes a pass on the left flank and fends off two men. Aware that he is about to be bundled over the touchline, he throws the ball off the covering Racing defender to earn his team a line-out.

Source: gorpitsen junior/YouTube

Ireland defence coach Les Kiss has noted Picamoles’ ability to keep attacks alive either through breaking tackles, fending defenders away and offloading in the tackle. Ireland will need to be on high alert of his support runners as players such as Maxime Medard and Brice Dulin will zero in on him when he takes the on the ball.

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PICAMOLES Source: Great Rugby World

France will try to set up mismatches for Picamoles to exploit and Saint-Andre will have keenly observed the failure of Brian O’Driscoll and the Kearney brothers to stop Italy’s Leonardo Sarto once he found room to roam out on the left wing. Picamoles often features out wide in Toulouse and French set plays.

In this instance [below] against Connacht, Toulouse work a short line-out give and take, leaving the No.8 is with just Fionn Carr to beat. It did not end well for Carr. Connacht hooker Sean Henry was caught unawares by the move but Rory Best should have his homework done. Indeed, the Ulster hooker will need to augment his role as an additional loose forward, in defence, and keep a watching brief for Picamoles.

Source: Stade Toulousain ô fil des essais/YouTube

How to quell Picamoles

Asking Ireland to completely remove Picamoles as a threat from the game will be almost as hard as, say, an Irish team winning a Test match in Paris. He will make ground and Irishmen will be left in his wake. The key is to funnel him up tight alleys, close down his space, tackle low, hard and hold on.

Scotland’s minor success in recent encounters with the Parisian have come from ushering him down the wings and getting numbers out to support the likes of Rory Lamont and Stuart Hogg. John Barclay had that role in 2012 at Murrayfield. Dan Lydiate of Wales has also been asked to chase Picamoles wherever he goes. He negated his threat in 2012 when the Frenchman came off the bench and did a reasonable job against him at the Millennium Stadium three weeks ago. A frustrated Picamoles ended up getting yellow-carded late in France’s 27-6 defeat.

Joe Schmidt will be thankful, then, that Peter O’Mahony is fit again. The Munster flanker — a fan of the fend-off too — may be asked to do a similar, shadowing job on Picamoles.

POM Source: The Irish Neilers

Schmidt could do no better than Wales’ World Cup 2011 number that removed the threat of Ireland’s ball-carrying back row duo of Sean O’Brien and Stephen Ferris. On that day in Wellington, Wales hunted in pairs. One man tackled low and held on for dear life. The other wrapped his arms around the carrier and heaved the man to the ground. The second man is also on the look-out for potential offloads. If he cannot get to Picamoles in time, his job is to immediately hit the support runner.

As former Irish hooker Shane Byrne remarked, “Don’t meet him head on as he’s incredibly strong. You can talk about tackling technique, and it needs to be right, but the one thing you should focus on is the most important — put him down.”

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O’Mahony returns to Ireland line-up as Madigan handed place on the bench

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Patrick McCarry

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