Saturday 7 December 2019

Rory Best stresses the need for Ireland to be switched on from the start

Ireland cannot afford to be "caught cold" again in the scrum in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations battle with France in Paris, according to Rory Best.

Captain Best has challenged Ireland's pack to iron out the kinks that allowed Wales to dominate the early set-piece exchanges in last weekend's 16-16 draw in Dublin.

Ireland will chase back-to-back victories in Paris for the first time since 1927 this weekend, where only a win will be enough to sustain their chances of an unprecedented third consecutive Six Nations title.

Ulster hooker Best admitted Ireland slipped off the scrummaging pace against the Welsh, and have since been battling to redress the balance.

"From our point of view we got caught cold in the first half against Wales," said Best.

"It was bit of a different combination in the entire front five and CJ coming in to the back-row for the first time too.

"We worked a few things out at half-time and we improved as the game went on.

"We're under no illusions that this is going to be a sterner test again, and the big thing for us is to make sure we've done our work on them - but also to make sure that we keep pushing forward.

"We've got to make sure we don't start this game tomorrow cold, the way we did against Wales.

"The first scrum tomorrow has to be slightly better than the last scrum against Wales, and so on and so forth throughout the game."

Rookie prop Rob Evans got the better of Connacht's Nathan White at the Aviva Stadium last weekend but Best insists Ireland can cope with France's revamped front-row on Saturday.

Bustling duo Jefferson Poirot and Uini Atonio have been promoted to France's starting line-up despite both previously being viewed as impact substitutes.

That means France can call on the more experienced duo of Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous around the 50-minute mark, with Les Bleus boss Guy Noves keen to keep his front-rowers on their toes.

Poirot and Atonio hold just 12 Test caps between them ahead of Saturday's match, inexperience that Ireland will obviously target.

Even if France's front-row switch caught Ireland on the hop, Best has insisted Joe Schmidt's side will be just as well prepared whichever personnel Les Bleus boast in the pack.

"France have got a very, very good squad, so no matter who is picked it's a tough challenge," said Best.

"Three changes in the front-five certainly freshens things up but by no means weakens them.

"It paints a slightly different picture for us, so we need to make sure that we are geared accordingly.

"The four props haven't changed from their matchday squad last week.

"We pride ourselves on putting as much attention and detail into the subs as the starters. A lot of the time it's the end of the game where you're winning it.

"So for us it was just a change in emphasis as to who was starting and who was on the bench."

Former Racing 92 fly-half Johnny Sexton led a lengthy team talk in the early section of Ireland's captain's run training session on the Stade de France pitch on Friday lunchtime.

The 30-year-old has been France's chief target ever since his two year-stint at Paris' Top 14 club.

Sexton has shrugged off all the rough treatment and brickbats so far however, even when dubbed the 'Zlatan Ibrahimovic' of the Top 14 league by the French press during the autumn's World Cup.

The Leinster playmaker scored two tries when Ireland edged out France 22-20 in Paris two years ago to claim the 2014 Six Nations title, and is clearly intent on a repeat showing.

Best tipped Sexton to spearhead Ireland's approach again this weekend.

"Johnny just talked through a few of the plays, things around our game plan," said Best. "He's got a big role to play as he runs the game for us.

"At this stage of the week it's important that it's player-driven. That's what the huddle and the walk around the pitch is all about.

"Everyone gets a sense that the coaches have done their bit and it's up to the players now.

"The coaches can influence tactics, but ultimately it's up to the players that take the field."

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