Tuesday 21 November 2017

Keith Wood: Ireland's French test will be brutal

Ireland will have to out-gun French in physical stakes to have a chance

Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton is again likely to targeted by giant French centre Mathieu Bastareaud
Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton is again likely to targeted by giant French centre Mathieu Bastareaud

For the most part the first few games have gone to plan.

Ireland have managed to get to this weekend very much below the radar, especially  compared to some of our neighbours, although I know one in particular who would like to swap!

Maybe this was always going to be the case as we have had a very beneficial running order of games. Canada and Romania were hard and honest games but not trying in any real way.

Italy, a team that beat us as recently as two years ago, are in a total state of chassis. They seemed to have all the verve, energy and leadership drained from them without their inspirational leader Sergio Parisse.

They are a shadow of the team that has made life difficult in the Six Nations. And yet the return of the King nearly single-handedly won the game for Italy last Sunday.

Unfortunately, I've played in and seen games like this before. Whether it was the cased that we were lulled into a false sense of security or could not balance the conflicting emotions over these two weekends, we really struggled.

Ireland were substandard in nearly all facets of play. This happens for one of two reasons - we are not good enough or our intensity is off.

All evidence suggests the latter, as we are Six Nations champions and have not got worse overnight.

We still seem to need the fear, the favourites tag sits very uncomfortably on our shoulders. If focus and intensity are off by even ten per cent, it leads to poor lines, dropped passes, soaking tackles and a general malaise that infected the whole team.

This nervousness pervaded into the crowd, helped by the distance due to the running track. The 'oomph' of the Irish fans got drained away.

There are two outcomes from last Sunday. Bad as we were, we won, and we are back in our preferred role of underdogs again.

Why, when we have twice beaten and twice drawn France in the last four games, would we be underdogs?

Well, it suits us and they have an excellent RWC pedigree. They also have a belief that irrespective of what will happen they will beat Ireland.

In their world, if by some bizarre set of circumstances Ireland win, France are still supremely confident that they will beat the All Blacks.

But we can't even begin to countenance a loss. We are in the quarter-final already but we want - even need - to be in the easier side of the draw. This team has dreams of great things, not just equalling our under-performance of the past.

Is it possible for us to beat the All Blacks? It is, but it's unlikely. And we if we do, we get another southern hemisphere giant in South Africa.


Despite that amazing loss to Japan, South Africa are back on a roll and they know the deal in World Cups.

No, we want to play Argentina. Not easy, but even though they are harsh, quick and frightening, the Pumas are still our preferred opponents.

So now that we have figured out who we would like to play in the quarters, how do we get there?

We know France are building the most physical side they have ever had at a World Cup.

We know that they are going to bring a frightening intensity to the game, with heavy hitting from forwards and backs.

We know that Bastareaud will fly down Jonny Sexton's channel.

So what are we going to do? We have to set the tone. We set the physical standard and it has to out-do France and put them on the back foot.

If that happens, all that belief of theirs will start to ebb away. And when it does, it's time to unleash a couple of those secret plays Joe has been squirrelling away.

And after all that, we may - just may - win by a couple of points. This was never going to be easy.

Oh and one more thing - Jonny, tackle low!

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