Wednesday 13 December 2017

Loss of Yoann Huget for France could play into Ireland's resurgent strength out wide

France winger Yoann Huget is injured in a clash with Italy Luke McLean
France winger Yoann Huget is injured in a clash with Italy Luke McLean

It could just be the man missing for France, Yoann Huget, that offers Ireland a way into the heart of their defence.

The return to form of Tommy Bowe combined with the brilliance of Dave Kearney and Keith Earls makes Ireland confident in the wide channels with all three as good off the ground as they are on it.

"The one thing that we pride ourselves on is to be big in the air," said Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby.

"We need to dominate that area. It is certainly an area that we as coaches and players focus on.

"The French have lost Huget earlier in the tournament and that was a blow to them.

"But, they have certainly got fire power out wide.

"We are pretty focussed in the back three in trying to negate their threats."

There will be special plans laid out to deal with what happens outside Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud.

"We know it is important to put our things in place but we also understand how important it is to have an understanding of what the opposition are going to bring."

The good news for Ireland is that Jared Payne was out of his moon boot and into training fully yesterday to leave coach Joe Schmidt in the enviable position of playing from a full hand.

"It is testament to, not only the players who put in a lot of effort after games to make sure they recover, but the medical staff and the conditioners," Easterby said.

"We have been very fortunate that we haven't had to call for any back-up yet unlike some teams and to be able to get everyone out on the pitch is very important.

"At this stage, after three games, I don't think there will be many teams who have got that many players from their original squad, running around.

"Some players you have to hold back if they have certain things wrong with them but they are all desperate to be training and desperate to put themselves in the picture for Sunday.


"That's great for us as coaches."

There are questions over whether Payne should return automatically and, if so, whether Earls should be accommodated on one of the wings.

The resurgence of Bowe gives Ireland a different dimension on the outside, leaving the master of basics Kearney and Ireland's record try-scorer in the World Cup, perhaps, to contest the number eleven jersey.

"The selection has been very difficult," said Easterby.

"As far as the back three is concerned, there are a number of players who are in form."

There is also the ongoing issue of when to give Cian Healy a start, if at all, given the superb form of Jack McGrath.

While Healy has been good value off the bench, there has not been a compelling case made for him to unseat McGrath.

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