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Wednesday 13 November 2019

Ireland look to be reborn at home

SIX NATIONS IRELAND v FRANCE Live Virgin Media 1 & ITV (Tom, KO 3pm)

Garry Ringrose returns from injury to line out in the centre for Ireland tomorrow. Pic: Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose returns from injury to line out in the centre for Ireland tomorrow. Pic: Sportsfile

It was right there in the harsh words that spilled out of Jonathan Sexton's mouth on his way from the Stadio Olimpico pitch.

If Ireland don't "catch the f***ing ball" against France they will be in for a world of trouble.

It is not in the Gallic nature to just shrug their shoulders, stop and wait an eternity for the next scrum. A dropped ball is an invitation to dance and to entertain.

Their coach J acques Brunel has picked a group of players with the footwork to frazzle the best defences.

Romain N'Tamack, Antoine Dupont, Gael Fickou, Damien Penaud and Yoann Huget all have that one-on-one ability to get in behind.

"They're not going to play within themselves, I don't think," issued coach Joe Schmidt.

"I think they're coming to play. Likewise, I don't think we'll try to play within ourselves.

Pivotal

Garry Ringrose will be a pivotal part of Joe Schmidt's plan to contain what France do in those outside channels.

The connectivity the No 13 brings to Ireland just gives an edge in attack and a security in defence.

"Yeah, I think, for us, Garry does tend to lead that defensive connection with the edge defenders, who inevitably are usually the wingers.

"But I do think with Garry's experience, having been in the team a little bit longer (than Chris Farrell), it will inevitably help us."

Mind you, there is sometimes precious little that can be done to corral Mathieu Bastareaud when the mood takes the giant centre.

"You under-estimate him at your peril," warned Schmidt (right).

"He isn't just that wrecking ball that people think he just is. I've always found he's very good on his feet.

"It's not just about running over people. If you have a look and see him, even defensively, he can move, he can defend very well laterally."

There is no way through Bastareaud and Ringrose will have to be on his game to navigate a path around him.

France will have to counter a powerful Irish unit with captain Rory Best, Cian Healy, James Ryan, Iain Henderson and CJ Stander back on board in the forward pack.

The motivation will be there to generate the momentum that will gradually eat into France's fragile confidence from their recent victory over Scotland.

Half-backs Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton have their own worries going into this one. So often the generals of the green army, they will just have to get on with taking their form back to where it usually is.

At least, they have Ringrose to lead their game-plan further out.

It all points towards a cracking contest between one nation looking to rediscover last year's form and another on a voyage of discovery.

Schmidt talked up the reciprocal relationship between Ireland and those in the stands, perhaps in light of the mute atmosphere against England.

"I think the enthusiasm of our support has not changed and we're incredibly appreciative of that," he said.

"We're incredibly conscious of it as well.

"We know in those last 10 minutes against England, it's hard to be really behind the team when the team's out of the game."

"We've got to get into this game, stay in this game and then we keep the crowd with us.

"It's a responsibility we're conscious of and one I hope we deliver on."

The deep intake of breathe from a two-week break might just have put enough clear water between Rome and this weekend.

Ireland really need to put together the various elements of their game to have them in the right frame of mind for Wales next week.

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong, I Henderson, James Ryan, P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander. Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, John Ryan, U Dillane, J Conan; J Cooney, J Carty, J Larmour.

France: T Ramos; D Penaud, M Bastareaud, G Fickou, Y Huget; R N'Tamack, A Dupont; J Poirot, G Guirado (capt), D Bamba, F Lambey, S Vahaamahina, W Lauret, A Iturria, L Picamoles. Replacements: C Chat, E Falgoux, D Aldegheri, P Willemse, G Alldritt; B Serin, A Belleau, M Medard.

Verdict: Ireland

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