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Ireland have to fry the French

Well, the result from last Saturday’s test leaves Ireland sitting on a nice even number – zero.





No matter what anyone says Ireland have to win on Saturday. Configurations, permutations and experimentations are things that successful coaches do not have to engage in.



There is never any reason for a national coach to have to start shuffling. Since that awful Sunday at the Parc des Princes at Rugby World Cup 2007, when Ireland meekly accepted their fate, which was spooned out with unfettered aplomb by the willing Argentines, Declan Kidney, plotting and scheming since that day, has known at least 85pc of his matchday squad.



The limited mixing and matching has elicited only one player to outperform and give Kidney a problem for his preordained match-day squad. Could he possibly pick Andrew Trimble over the short-term injury doubt Tommy Bowe? It is the only decision Kidney has.



When Rob Kearney returns next week after injury, will Bowe join him on the right wing? Everything else is predetermined. The faked sincerity of a ‘thank you' to the rest of the 43-man squad for their efforts and zestful endeavour. I have no interest who the non-magnificent seven are who will fill the rest of the permitted 30-man roster. It is completely irrelevant, for instance, whether Conor Murray (pictured) goes ahead of Isaac Boss or Peter Stringer; it is all about the starters.



Now that we know who they are it is important that they start to win. It goes without saying that to win, particularly against France, they will have to play well. Ireland will win this Saturday for a variety of reasons, none, though, on the basis that they came remarkably close to turning France over in Bordeaux. It is quite difficult to extrapolate how good and bad both sides were on a beautiful August summer night.



If France had made the right substitutions when Maxime Mermoz came off midway through the first half then it could have been a 20-plus points differential. Marc Lievremont was “happy” with the way things went, in spite of his ineptitude on the night and indeed over his entire career as coach of France. It is like watching Edward Scissorhands trying to make balloon animals; he just doesn't have a clue.



The French have lost their mojo and it is true that they will probably upset somebody in New Zealand (most likely the hosts) but you can discount them as serious contenders primarily because Lievremont will be in charge. If they did not have the quality that they do in their back row they would be a pale side. Imanol Harinorduquoy and Thierry Dusatoir paper over a huge amount of weakness. Everybody talks about the cut, the dash and the extravagance of French play, but truly they spend more time kicking the ball away than they do flashing it under Lievremont’s stewardship.



They had considerably more ball and time in possession last Saturday yet they kicked 35 to our 28 – they didn't kick well either. It demonstrates Lievremont’s poverty of thought that he chooses to play Damien Traille at full-back because he can kick a ball 80 metres, it really is a hackneyed philosophy. Cedric Heymans and Maxime Medard play in the back three this Saturday, both of them natural fullbacks who don't kick especially well, but are devastating broken field runners – firestarters.



They represent a danger to Ireland when the French, despite their flawed selection policies, will do far better with both of these enterprising players in positions of influence. The thing about last Saturday’s match was the defensive excellence of both sides. The Sesame Street letter for the day was ‘O', there were so many OOOOs from the crowd after yet another car-crash tackle. Defence was the order of the day in Cardiff as well; it seems that most of the northern hemisphere sides have built their World Cup foundations on water-tight defence. It said something that in a match of such structured confrontation that it was just one moment of exquisite quality that separated the sides.



It was a prerehearsed move which would only take a few points away on artistic merit. When you study the reverse angle of the try and see that Vincent Clerc came from a depth of about 20 metres and you saw how efficient his line was and how diligent he was in keeping his patience – his timing was flawless. At that level it's all about sensory perception, particularly in the red zone.



Alexis Palisson’s pop-up out of the tackle to the inside space for the unseen Clerc was just very, very good. If France had to be good – that good – to score just one solitary try then it speaks volumes about Ireland’s resolve and ability to absorb serious pressure. France are a long way off where they need to be. Ireland, with the team selected for this Saturday, have claws and teeth and, if they keep their shape offensively, will score tries as they did in the Aviva earlier in the year (three) and will win for only the second time in 11 test matches against France. The priceless commodity of an infusion in confidence and momentum, but most importantly a win.



PS: I was at the Guinness Rugby Writers bash at the Aviva on Monday night. As I was leaving I bumped into Mike Gibson at the door. I had parked my car no more than 10 metres from the entrance – it didn't say ‘no parking'. Gibson turned around to me as I was getting into the car – ‘Good man Frano, great to see you get special privileges' – as the rain came down in sheets. I said ‘gotta keep the Batmobile close by, just in case'.



The rain at that stage came down in even greater torrents and Gibson took off to find his legally parked car located about 100 metres away. For a man in his 70th year the speed and grace on a wet cobbled surface was truly astonishing. There was only one superhero in this piece and he wasn't sitting in the Batmobile.




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