Sunday 24 March 2019

Neil Francis: 'Turn off the beer taps - Fans need to raise game and create buzz for Joe Schmidt and Ireland'

 

The Aviva crowd need to raise their game against the French
The Aviva crowd need to raise their game against the French
Iain Henderson. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Is this a Kennedy moment? "Ask not what your country can do for you…" The national team is struggling; they need as much help as they can get and I feel the crowd have a huge part to play next Sunday.

When the team is humming, the crowd come to watch. When the team is struggling, the crowd should come to cheer. One of the most unsettling things about the loss to England was how a few thousand Englanders managed to out-cheer a confident and fully expectant full house.

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The Irish crowd booed the constant 'Swing Lows' that erupted in the continuous moments of English ascendancy but could barely muster some solid timbre in any chorus throughout the game and most watched disconsolately and others left early.

There is the possibility of a bad run-up until and possibly including the World Cup - how much would that cost the IRFU financially? Get out of the group and past the quarters and the financial rewards are significant, not forgetting the intangible rewards to the country's self-esteem.

So maybe this match might be worth a fresh approach. It will be Joe Schmidt's last competitive home match in charge of Ireland; in fact, it is Schmidt's last competitive home match before they go to Japan.

Would it not be an idea to raise the roof in appreciation for what they have done over the last few years? A buzzy atmospheric Aviva that rows in behind their team from the off would be a considerable help.

How much would it cost the IRFU to turn off the beer taps in the stadium half an hour before the teams are due out? What price a full house in its seat waiting for the team to come out? When England came out on to the pitch a few weeks ago, the stadium was between a half and one-third full.

Ireland were defending their Grand Slam crown - and England were probably thinking, 'Well, that's encouraging, their crowd haven't turned up'. An uneasy calm set in and then disquiet after England's early try.

An element of complacency has entered into the minds of the patrons of these matches.

Everyone was in their seats and ready to go when the All Blacks came to town last November. Nobody wanted to miss the Haka and so the chardonnay, Guinness and prawn sandwiches were gulped down to make sure they were there for the pre-match theatrics. Would it be the Kamate or the throat-slitter Haka? Should we just play New Zealand the whole time?

This was England at the Aviva - where was the noise and the energy from the crowd? This is a moment of asking. This French team don't really know whether they have rediscovered their confidence or not.

A huge roar when France make a mistake or when Ireland go at them will reinforce the notion that the easy home win over Scotland was a figment of their imagination. Arrive early - cheer loudly, s'il vous plait!

Speaking of beer, the squad apparently had a knees-up when they were in Belfast last week. You almost get the impression that it was organised fun as opposed to some of the sessions from the amateur days.

If it had a galvanising effect and it helps the team recapture their verve, then organised or spontaneous it will have been worth it. Actually telling the press you've gone on the p*** - well, it's normally their job to find out.

There will be a number of notable absentees when the team is announced. Seán Cronin (below) has received the Ruud Gullit after his below-par performance in Rome. The problem here is that he will need to be in Japan.

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Hooker Sean Cronin, pictured, has been overlooked in favour of Rob Herring for Ireland’s Six Nations clash with France (Brian Lawless/PA)

Niall Scannell and Rob Herring are probably better lineout throwers but there is no substitute for pace and dynamism and Cronin will play his way back into the equation if Leinster have a good run in the Champions Cup.

Also below-par in Rome was Sean O'Brien - graveyards are full of indispensable men, maybe we need a demonstration of just why he is considered so.

Meanwhile, in breaking news, the Nobel Foundation has announced that in addition to awarding a prize for outstanding contributions for humanity in the fields of chemistry, literature, peace, physics and medicine, they will now add lineout-calling to that list.

When Ireland won all 11 of their lineouts in Murrayfield, Quinn Roux, without winning one single ball, got effusive praise for calling the lineouts by people who have never stood in a lineout.

Roux this time managed to win one ball in Rome in a very poor lineout performance by the team.

It is only when you compare and contrast his performance with that of Ultan Dillane that you realise what a farce this whole thing has been.

Iain Henderson and James Ryan should be the starting second-row with Tadhg Beirne on the bench. The hope is that the two complement each other and form a dynamic partnership for now and for Japan.

The French have a strong and competitive lineout and there is no question that Ireland will leak a few.

I have no chance of winning a Nobel Prize but if I was Julien Bonnaire (French forwards coach), I would do a lot of thinking about how to stop Peter O'Mahony.

Ireland have thrown the majority of their ball to the Munster man but it doesn't matter because he invariably wins it, has great hands, superb reach and wonderful dexterity in the air.

Bonnaire, who won more than his fair share of ball when he played No 6 for France, will have Wencelas Lauret prepared for a scrap of the blindsides in the air. Ireland's locks will have to front up if O'Mahony is pressurised.

Ireland will have a fresh team on Sunday and can pick a close to full-strength side so you would back them to beat a France side that was so bad it lost to Fiji in November.

But France are powerful and their three-quarters are huge men and there will be a premium for stopping them on the gain-line.

Do that and string some phases together and Ireland will win - hopefully with the aid of a noisy, enthusiastic crowd.

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