Monday 22 January 2018

Neil Francis: This delay could prove convenient for Ireland

Kidney's men can regain momentum in time for rematch, writes Neil Francis

Well, an inconvenient decision to postpone yesterday's eagerly awaited crunch match. The documentary An Inconvenient Truth won't be getting another airing in this household for quite a while. I'm not sure whether the global-warming theorists are now as embarrassed as the FFR.

This match was in doubt from as early as last week and friends and colleagues told me as early as Thursday that the match wouldn't be played. We discounted what they said on the basis that the people in charge know what they are doing.

As usual, the French, in their minimalist and laissez-faire way, did as little as possible to make certain that the match took place. The game was postponed on the basis that the corner on the right-hand side facing back into Saint-Denis was dangerous and that there was a prospect of the pitch becoming rock hard as the match progressed.

I have played and trained on harder pitches, but I would suspect that none of the physicality which we were about to see would have been brought to bear on some of those matches I took part in.

Sales of Dave Pearson dartboards might experience a spike in Ireland over the next week or two, but I think that the postponement will favour Ireland. We'll come to that later on, but now we are in the realms of the 'what if'. I'm not sure what frame of mind Ireland were in. Sometimes to bounce back from a reversal with six days of a turnaround is optimal, in the sense that you have very little time to reflect on what has happened and the prerogative is to jump into a higher gear and, in adversity, produce a better performance.

To win in Paris takes many attributes -- intelligence is important, ambition is essential, but courage is inestimable and the prime ingredient for success. Churchill said, "Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others."

After last Sunday's grievous loss, would Ireland feel the want of it? We'll never know whether they were primed to meet their responsibilities.

I suspect that they could have been competitive last night and they probably would have shown courage, but it probably would have been classed in the bracket of a 'feckless show of defiance'.

I'm not sure if this team knows where it is going. They have, over the last couple of seasons, had easy starts to the campaign and they have had the luxury of ironing out any quirks or deficiencies in their makeup before they meet the better teams in the competition. I could only guess, but I was certain that Ireland's defensive strategy was a change of direction by Ireland's defensive coach Les Kiss.

They seem to have adopted Leinster's strategy where they would push off their line for a couple of steps and then settle into a holding position, letting the Welsh come at them at pace.

In effect, it's about hedging your bets and giving your opponent an opportunity to attack you. Either great confidence or great stupidity to apply this theory -- particularly when the Welsh backline showed great accuracy and precision in their passing and very direct vectors in their running.

This assumption was based on the fact that Ireland had changed what they were doing. It is very risky to try and do this a week before the start of the Six Nations, but I was amazed to hear Rob Kearney talking about what Ireland were trying to achieve defensively and he said, "We let them come up at us and our line speed was not good."

What he said throws the supposition that Ireland had implemented a new defensive strategy, and the fact was they were just at sixes and sevens -- not only was their line speed not good, but the integrity of the line was compromised too.

No doubt, they would have had a look at what they did wrong and would have put in remedial and corrective action to try and counter what Rougerie, Fofana and Malzieu would have thrown at them -- this was of necessity, it wasn't an option. So we never got to find out whether Ireland would have survived or held their line comfortably last night, but what the postponement does for Ireland is, it gives them an opportunity to test how rigid and improved their adjustments are against inferior opposition.

The Italians were good but limited yesterday, mostly limited, in the Stadio Olimpico, which also has no under-soil heating. They rely hugely on Sergio Parisse to do, well, practically everything for them and if Castrogiovanni had not gone off, their scrum would have held up enough to see England off in the tight.

Defensively, the Italians are well marshalled and very structured along the three-quarter line and Ireland will probably have more difficulty scoring tries against them than defending what the Italians throw at us.

The fact is that Ireland should have two points in the bag by the time they meet the French back in Paris on the March 2.

Ireland, over the last three or four years, have become a better side the longer the championship has gone on and if they can carry the wear and tear and fatigue factor which four Test matches in a row will bring to bear, then they should finish this championship in a better position and with far more positivity and surety of direction.

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