Sunday 21 January 2018

Paris suddenly a little less daunting

Platform in place as Ireland target something special, says Duncan Bech

Duncan Bech

JonATHAN Sexton, who sealed a fine kicking performance with the man of the match award against Italy, was delighted to get the win, which he described as the "main thing".

"But we're not happy with all the aspects of our performance," he said, "we still have things to work on but it's a great thing to build on going into France next week.

"The plan was to try and wear them down in the first half and then pick it up in the second half; it wasn't perfect but we'll take the win and move onto France on Sunday.

The outhalf, who kept the scoreboard ticking over to the tune of 17 points, added: "It wasn't perfect, and there's plenty to work on personally, but fair play to the forwards, I thought they were outstanding today. We (the backs) weren't allowed into their team meeting, the forwards kept it in-house and they had the performance to back it up today."

And turning to the disappointment of last week's postponed game, he added. "It was strange the last few weeks, especially with the game being called off so late, so many supporters turned up in France and left without seeing anything. Hopefully they will follow us over again next week, they were fantastic here today and we gave them something to shout about.

"I've never started a game in Paris, so hopefully I'll get the nod for next week, if we win over there it will be something special and that's what we have to build on during the week."

Italy coach Jacques Brunel admitted the Azzurri paid the price for a poor second-half display that saw Ireland run in three of their five tries.

"We had two different teams out there. In the first half we tried to play and kept the score close," said the Frenchman. "But in the second half it was completely different, we suffered beneath the Irish pressure and made many mistakes."

Ireland's captain, Paul O'Connell, agreed with Sexton that Ireland's chances of triumphing in Paris next weekend have improved following yesterday's victory Rather than face Les Bleus on the back of a dispiriting defeat by Wales, as was the case two weeks ago, they meet the championship favourites having routed Italy.

"It's great to get that result going to Paris, so we're probably in a better place than we were the last time we went over," said O'Connell. "It's a good scoreline, there's no doubt about it. The guys are happy with that. We have a lot of excellent and classy players and we took our tries well, which was satisfying. It was a good, patient performance."

But while the final scoreline was emphatic, the performance against a disappointing Italy side was far from perfect. Declan Kidney praised his side's ambition but accepted it must be reined in on occasion. "We did some simple things well. In the second half we put away our scores very well and we're delighted with that," he said. "There was a bit of wearing down that had to be done in the first 50 minutes, as there are in all Test matches.

"We could probably have done a little more of that in their half rather than ours, but I can't fault the boys for trying to play. We had the courage to play, but what we need to do is get the balance right. That comes with playing together and the more time we spend together the better we'll become. But can't go away thinking everything's great just because we scored a few late tries."

Centre Gordon D'Arcy damaged his shoulder but Kidney is unconcerned by the injury, while full-back Rob Kearney's groin tightened up and will be monitored. "It was a good team performance," said Stephen Ferris. "It was great to get the victory. It was well needed. We talked about putting in a big performance and the tries came in the end, that's the main thing. I think we brought ourselves on to another level."

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