Joe Schmidt’s Ireland maintained their 100pc record in this year’s Six Nations with a bruising 18-11 victory over France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.
With two weeks to prepare for what could be a winner-takes-all clash with an unbeaten England side, Independent.ie outlines five things we learned from tonight’s win.
Ireland can win ugly
A sign of all good teams is their ability to adapt to circumstances and put together a performance capable of victory. Despite not scoring any tries against Les Blues, Ireland are now unbeaten in nine international test matches.
The powerful French were never going to be an easy proposition but they were cooly negotiated with 18 points coming from penalties as the Irish showed a different facet to their character and ground out a result.
This was Ireland's first win against France at the Aviva and under Schmidt Ireland have developed a knack of winning tight games and winning when not playing to their maximum, in World Cup year this is more important than ever.
Henshaw and Payne are the real deal
Coming up against a much more physically imposing player like Mathieu Bastereaud and the ingenuity of Wesley Fofana, there were question marks hanging over the rookie centre pairing but once again the sun shone bright.
Robbie Henshaw was more aggressive than we’ve seen before, tackling ferociously and gaining valuable yards with ball in hand while Payne was excellent on the ball and distributed smartly throughout.
They both look like naturals at this level and even though it is very early in their stage of development as a centre partnership, who thought O’Driscoll or D’Arcy could be replaced so seamlessly?
Cometh the hour cometh the man
After 12 weeks out of competitive action due to four concussions in a year, there was national worry about whether Johnny Sexton would be able to cope with the physical demands of this gruelling Six Nations tie.
Despite reacquainting himself with Bastereaud’s beastly body and suffering a nasty facial injury, Sexton produced a polished display further enhancing his growing reputation as the best out-half in world rugby post-Wilkinson.
The Dubliner's restarts were inch perfect, he kicked beautifully out of hand apart from one errant second-half kick to touch and his place kicking was immaculate nailing five from five in a remarkable man-of-the-match display which illustrated his value to the Irish side.
Strength in depth
The strength of a panel is all good on paper but it’s only really in the white heat of big international games when you see the value of your bench and on tonight's evidence the Irish cup is overflowing.
Ian Madigan came in for Sexton after his blood injury and was a hive of energy when called upon, kicking a pivotal penalty while Iain Henderson put in some big hits in the last 20 minutes.
Cian Healy flexed his newly healed hamstrings when replacing Jack McGrath while Marty Moore and Sean Cronin, both criticised after the late scrum collapse in Paris last year, were cool, calm and looked like wise heads on young shoulders which is highly promising for all supporters.
We’re no one-trick pony
With the variety of opposition and styles of rugby being played in the modern era it is more important than ever to have a varied, adaptable game plan that can be tinkered depending on the opposition.
Many would have thought that Schmidt would have encouraged his players to kick incessantly and play a percentage game. The exact opposite was the case as for the majority of the first half Ireland sprayed the ball around the pitch maintaining possession and reducing the opportunity for the famous French counter-attack.
Sexton chose his kicks carefully, Conor Murray box kicked only at appropriate times while Rob Kearney didn't have his boot on the ball as much as we have become accustomed to. With different plans for different styles Ireland are a force to be reckoned with in a huge rugby year.