Sunday 21 January 2018

Schmidt's concerns will be more about Irish fitness than French flair

Joe Schmidt will be sending his Ireland side out against an unconvincing French squad Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Joe Schmidt will be sending his Ireland side out against an unconvincing French squad Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you tuned into Paris yesterday afternoon you'll have been struck by the pre-match expectations of an old coach bringing a new style to France. A week out from Ireland's visit to Stade de France, this held almost as much interest in Carton House as it did in Marcoussis.

By the end of an entertaining game, where both teams tried to play a bit of rugby, Joe Schmidt will have had his impressions confirmed more than altered. He knew that France would have a bit more structure under the new regime than the madcap stuff of Philippe Saint-Andre. But not that much.

Moreover he knew that Jonathan Danty would bring a lot more mobility - and as much of the grunt - to the midfield as the man who Guy Noves left out of the squad, Mathieu Bastareaud. As for Sevens star Virimi Vakatawa, the Ireland coach didn't have much to go on in the 15-man game because the wing is new to it. It didn't look that way after 13 minutes as he put a lovely finishing gloss to what would be the best move from the home team over the 80 minutes. The power and athleticism Vakatawa brings to the short version has a place in 15s, but he can expect, in the near future, to be dealing with a lot more aerial assault than yesterday.

For much of the game it looked like Schmidt would be taking his team to Paris to face a team under the kind of pressure that comes with losing first up at home. Instead Ireland will play a France team with a win to their credit, but not much else. They were good going forward - at least when they got tempo into their game - and their use of second-line attacks looked handy enough.

So too did the contribution of Jules Plisson off the tee. He saved his side with a whopping late penalty, but if his opposite number Carlo Canna hadn't been proving himself to be another in the pantheon of Italian outhalves who can't hit the target - otherwise he was pretty good - then the Stade Francais 10 wouldn't have got a chance to be the hero.

The most worrying thing for the Ireland coach is the sheer power and athleticism in the France squad. Being able to feed Uini Atonio and Jefferson Poirot into fray is a luxury. Well it would be if the system was functioning better.

Instead it was the Italians who were far better organised, but simply lacked a bit of common sense when it really counted - like Michele Campagnaro reaching for the line when he had zero chance of making it. At 18-10 early in the third quarter - and playing really well, dinking the ball in behind the French defence - Italy shouldn't have been in a position to lose it to a long-range kick with five minutes left.

And that tells us more about Italy than it does about France. Noves has his hands full in rehabbing this France side, not just from their miserable World Cup, but from the almost ritual failure that has become their Six Nations form. The Ireland coach will talk France up to stratospheric levels during the week, but his greatest concern will be the day less which his squad have to prepare, and the bodies fit to take part in that preparation.

Sunday Indo Sport

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