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Neil Francis: 'Scotland aren't very good - now it's time for Ireland to show they are'

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Chased down: Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Jonny May during England’s victory against Ireland last weekend. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Chased down: Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Jonny May during England’s victory against Ireland last weekend. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Chased down: Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Jonny May during England’s victory against Ireland last weekend. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

I got my first cap at the 1987 World Cup in New Zealand. It was a final pool game against Tonga and I figured I might get a run-out, so when the team was being announced I was all ears and anticipation.

"Number 4, Donal Lenihan; number 5, Willie Anderson."

"S**t, I'm not getting a run-out at all."

"Number 6, Philip Matthews; number 7, Derek McGrath; number 8, Neil Francis."

"S**t, I'm going to be doing a lot of running."

Not much was said and I winged it and had a good game. The team was announced for the quarter-final in Sydney against Australia and I was picked again. Australia were a powerhouse side - you couldn't just leave it to chance.

Back in the day most teams had about a dozen back-row moves - you had to know and execute these and you also had to know how to defend against these too. A greenhorn could get badly exposed.

I sat down with Mick Doyle just to see what the policy was on defence.

"So Mick, it's an Aussie scrum on our 22, small blind, the scrum wheels on the tighthead side - do I cover the blind or open?"

Doyler was never strong on detail and neither had the time nor the inclination to second-guess what box of tricks the Australians had for us at scrum time.

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His advice was direct: "Frano, if the pope comes around the side of the scrum on a Honda 50 - you just f*****g tackle him."

The last time I played No 8 was as an under-14. The press conference was on at lunchtime and my selection, out of position, was a major talking point.

"Doyler, what do I say at the presser?"

"Tell them you played the whole season for Leinster at No 8."

"They all know I didn't."

"OK, tell them it's your preferred position."

Brilliant! I could have been a Republican Presidential candidate (American and Sinn Féin) - I lied to all of them.

Funny how Robbie Henshaw used the same line - he didn't fool the English one bit either and he got exposed.

Henshaw was a very good full-back for Connacht and he made his reputation there before he switched to centre.

Henshaw is now built like a centre and thinks like a centre and all the way through Saturday's game he played like a first centre out of position at the back.

It might take a half-dozen games to get him to sync back into what he was before but the current Connacht fullback Tiernan O'Halloran would have been more effective at the back than Henshaw. Joe Schmidt probably did the right thing - get all of your best players on the park. Proof positive that even the best players can struggle to re-adapt.

When the team for Scotland is announced today Henshaw will be at 13 and Rob Kearney at 15. On any other day the gamble would have paid off but not when England were in the mood they were in. Pity.

Another experiment that Ireland will have to file under B was using Bundee Aki as a first receiver. Aki has a defined skill-set and getting the line moving is just not one of them.

When Leinster picked Dan Leavy at No 8 against Bath just before Christmas, quality player that he is, he struggled.

I am not sure how fit Jack Conan is but Schmidt must replace CJ Stander with a proper No 8. Conan is the best available No 8 and from the player's perspective this is his moment - Ireland are under pressure and desperate for a win. This has to be his moment.

When Devin Toner was forced off with 25 minutes to go Ireland were effectively down to 14 men. The Ireland management 'bigged up' Quinn Roux earlier in the week saying that he put himself about a bit when "he came on and put a couple of big hits in".

The South African made just three tackles in 25 minutes. Courtney Lawes came on at roughly the same time and made nine tackles - how do we rate Courtney? Scotland were missing the Gray brothers for Saturday and had selected the lamentable Ben Toolis again and Grant Gilchrist - not exactly the meanest, toughest hombres ever to represent Scotland in the second-row.

Jonny Gray should be back and it will be interesting to compare the tackle counts and industry of Gray and Roux.

If Ireland are to win in Scotland an overpowering display by Ireland's front five is required. Tadhg Beirne on one leg or Iain Henderson with one arm would be a better bet.

Two years ago I suggested that Ireland seek out Scotland at scrum time and go after them in that phase.

That match was lost 27-22 in a weird game where yet again Ireland were very slow off the mark and paid the price. Ireland have got to shake off this first-match malaise syndrome.

Scotland screamed into action with some rapid-fire tries and Ireland struggled to get back into the game.

It was freaky in one sense that Scotland only had one scrum and Ireland had five. Ireland got three penalties from those scrums - it wasn't enough to pin Scotland down.

If Ireland ever wanted to find a way to feel good about themselves again - it will be in this phase of play.

The Scots have lost highly-rated scrummager WP Nel and will be on their sixth or seventh-choice tighthead. It can be a foundation stone for a recovery victory.

If Ireland are serious about the Championship they will need to score bonus points against all their remaining opponents and hope Wales knock off England in Cardiff in Round 3.

Henry Slade's interception try was very costly when Ireland were chasing a losing bonus point or maybe more with 10 minutes to go. Four points to one was attainable but five points to zip now on the table leaves redemption looking like a lost cause.

It was hard to gauge how good or bad Scotland are because Italy were bad beyond words and only putting 38 points on a team as bad as Italy showed Scotland's limitations.

Scotland do not have anything close to the sort of fire-power England have and I figure that our halves and back-three won't play that badly again.

If Ireland play even close to their best they will win - another average performance and they will definitely get turned over.


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