Thursday 26 April 2018

Monday Breakdown: Five things we learned

Sexton stands up to physical and mental challenge but Irish indiscipline could yet prove costly

Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

1. Class is permanent - Any doubts surrounding Johnny Sexton's commitment were eased in the opening few minutes when the out-half lined up Mathieu Bastareaud and put in a ferocious hit that landed flush on his jaw.

Sexton still managed to win the turn-over and went on to put in a flawless display from the tee, kicking five from five

His return not only lifted the Irish players but the crowd inside the Aviva Stadium also fed off the classy aura that one has almost come to expect.

His defence was excellent and he didn't shirk his responsibility, despite France doing their best to get inside his head in the build-up.

He deservedly picked up the Man of the Match award but he won't want to see a replay of his butchering of what should have been a certain try after 55 minutes.

Sexton remains central to any hopes Ireland have of winning silverware this season but his insistence on going high in the tackle could well lead to further problems down the line.

2. Penalty count a point for concern

Being the stickler for detail that he is, Joe Schmidt won't have been best pleased with Ireland's penalty count (11) but Paul O'Connell afterwards admitted that players found it "difficult" to understand the referee's interpretation.

In his post-match press conference, Philippe Saint-André laughed when he was asked about Wayne Barnes' performance which spoke volumes for his thoughts.

Afterwards, both Sean O'Brien and Devin Toner bemoaned Ireland's penalty count with the latter saying it was "unacceptable".

Had Camille Lopez's kicking display been as flawless as Sexton's, Ireland may have been under a lot more pressure earlier on.

3. 'Attritional' rugby makes for poor spectacle

After the treat that the Ireland v France U-20s served up on Friday night, Saturday's affair was laden with penalties as well as scrums.

The time spent in scrums has long been a major concern and it doesn't show any sign of changing soon.

Barnes gave 25 penalties in total with both sets of players looking bemused at his interpretation of the breakdown.

Compared to schools rugby and the U-20s, at times senior internationals can look like a different sport.

With such a talented crop of players coming through in the country at the moment, the hope is that they won't be stifled when they reach this level.

4. Concussion raises its ugly head again

It's a problem that refuses to go away and yet again, there were several incidents in which players were forced to leave the pitch to undergo Head Injury Assessments (HIA).

Sexton and Bastareaud's initial clash sent gasps around the stadium but it was their second-half collision in which both players went off before later returning.

Schmidt confirmed afterwards that Sexton was off the pitch receiving stitches and underwent a HIA as a "precaution".

The sight of two French medics running after Scott Spedding in an attempt to haul him off for a similar incident, much to the player's refusal, was certainly concerning.

He was substituted at the next break in play before failing the HIA test while Wesley Fofana passed with Saint-André satisfied that the protocols were correctly deployed by his medical team.

5. Poor execution all around costs points

The next time these two sides meet will be in their final World Cup pool game and if the execution is as poor as it was on Saturday, it will hardly be worth getting excited about.

France had gone over two and a half hours of rugby before eventually getting over the line while Ireland's failure to cross the whitewash has only ever happened one other time under Schmidt (second game in charge against Australia in 2013).

The introduction of Morgan Parra sparked much-needed new life into France but their talented backline failed to fire which has to be a serious concern for them.

For Ireland, another step up in quality will be needed when England arrive in Dublin in two weeks.

What they said

Joe Schmidt (Ireland coach)

"I think we need a breather after that. There's some pretty tired bodies. And we made a mountain of tackles in that last quarter. I think the players deserve a fair bit of merit because they managed to do so."

Uini Atonio (France prop)

"They won the tournament last year, so they are capable of doing that again. And they are in pole position to do the Grand Slam I think. They've moved up the IRB rankings and they are a world-class team."

Ref link

"If the president comes up and says 'are you Nigel Owens'…"

Wayne Barnes shares a joke with his touch judge Nigel Owens as President Michael D Higgins approaches him prior to kick off.

"What's the time?"

"I don't know, I don't keep it."

Sexton's inquiry as to how long is left in the first half is dismissed by Barnes.

"I think I'm doing a good job of clearing up."

Barnes has a chuckle to himself as he praises his own performance.

"The player ran on to me. I'm sorry, it's a blue scrum. I'm completely in the wrong."

Barnes attempts to reason with a furious O'Connell.

Numbers game

The number of games that Ireland have not scored a try in under coach Joe Schmidt - the first  came against Australia in 2013

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