Wednesday 11 December 2019

The five-point plan Joe Schmidt needs to adopt to ensure a winning start to the Six Nations in Paris

Schmidt's game-plan will aim to ask questions of untested home side in 'Stade' cauldron

Johnny Sexton goes through a stretching routine during training yesterday ahead of Ireland’s departure to Paris. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton goes through a stretching routine during training yesterday ahead of Ireland’s departure to Paris. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Two years ago, Ireland submitted in an ugly battle at the Stade de France which was memorable only for the violence with which the home side went about their business and the incredible pressure they exerted on their visitors before Maxime Medard won the day.

The 2016 season was not a vintage year for Joe Schmidt's side, but the regeneration that took place in that campaign set the tone for what followed and is part of the reason that Ireland travel to Paris as six-point favourites to win.

All week, the players have parroted the line about how difficult it is to win away to the French and yet when you look at the teams named by Schmidt and Jacques Brunel yesterday, there is a clear disparity in experience and class. Sure, there is talent in the France ranks but the better operators are all wearing green.

Ireland's job is to make their caps count, to take the new faces into places they've never been before - to ask them questions they don't yet know the answer to and to ultimately apply so much pressure that they make match-defining errors. Under a new coaching team with whom they have had limited preparation time, the French players must have doubts in their minds going into this game. Ireland's mission is to exacerbate those lingering questions.

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Schmidt is the master at finding weakness and while there is no footage of this XV playing under the tutelage of this coach, there is enough out there on the individual players and the collective France team to go on.

Put it this way, if it is hard to analyse Les Bleus because they've never played together, how hard is it going to be for them to perform given their lack of cohesion?

Conditions could limit Ireland's ambition, but they just need to get out of Paris with victory - nobody is expecting bonus points.

How they go about it will be fascinating to watch.

1 - Put a 'rabbit' on Jalibert

Ireland railed against France's targeting of Johnny Sexton in years gone by and it is not in the nature of Schmidt's side to go out and leave one on an opponent, but it would be remiss of the visiting team not to at least welcome the 19-year-old out-half playing opposite them to Test rugby. It would be no surprise if the industrious Josh van der Flier was tasked with hounding Matthieu Jalibert all evening.

The Leinster tackling machine is clean as a whistle when it comes to technique, but he does not let up when it comes to work-rate and possesses the pace to get off the line and in the Bordeaux teenager's face.

Undoubtedly talented, Ireland cannot allow Jalibert to have an armchair ride. They'll want to slow down his possession at ruck-time, get the scrum going backwards to give him less time and space and make life hell for Maxime Machenaud inside him.

Although we can expect Yacouba Camera to act as Jalibert's body-guard at lineout time, Ireland can be clever and use tip-on passes to commit the back-rows and get the big men running at the No 10.

France may choose to hide him on the wing off first or second phase, but Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will undoubtedly be watching for an opportunity to test his positional sense and aerial ability.

Denying him time and space is the key. Schmidt described Jalibert as a prodigious player, but Ireland must make sure he finds the step up difficult.

2 - Chaos theory

Brunel is one of the more conservative coaches on the French beat, a strict disciplinarian who favours structure and likes to delegate to his assistants.

He'll have been working on putting in place a formula for the home side to succeed, but has had very limited time in which to implement his ideas.

If Ireland can disrupt, then their opponents will slip back to their habits of old - forcing offloads and making key errors.

Schmidt is not one of the coaches who have been preaching about 'chaos' in the last 18 months, but there is merit in taking the French out of their comfort zone.

Given their power and impressive skill-set, it might be a risk to try the unpredictable against France in Paris, but if they are thinking about what they are supposed to be doing instead of actually doing it then there is an opportunity for Ireland to exploit.

Defensively, France will likely continue with the system they used under Guy Noves given defensive consultant Jean-Marc Bederede is the only survivor from that ticket.

Still, with such limited preparation, their solidity is in question.

3 - Lightning-quick ball

If Ireland are producing the ball in less than three seconds at ruck time on a regular basis, then they should win the game. Anything less than three seconds is known as lightning-quick ball (LQB)

The theory goes in New Zealand that if you produce LQB in 45pc or more of your rucks, then you'll win the game. Schmidt's sides have always prided themselves on their breakdown work and capacity to hand Conor Murray possession on a plate.

If they can win the collisions and then clear the ball out efficiently, there is plenty of threat in the backline to hurt the French.

If France can slow things down, then Ireland could be sucked into a game they don't want to play.

4 - Build on the maul

Having gone away from this area of strength, Ireland returned to their lineout maul in November to good effect.

France have had such limited time together, they are unlikely to have put much effort into defending the drive and if they are loose in this department then the green forwards can exploit any cracks.

5 - Forward skills allow width

The inclusion of James Ryan adds to Ireland's attacking threat, with the highly skilled Leinster second-row another passing option for the team.

Perhaps he won't be asked to stand at pivot, but his hands make defenders think twice before committing to tackles.

With Tadhg Furlong operating in a playmaking role, Murray and Sexton can stand wider and offer more scope to get the ball wide where Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale can thrive.

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