Could this be the tournament decider in round 2? The top 2 teams in the world rankings met at the Aviva Stadium having both come through the first round with victories despite performances that were not completely convincing. And a physical start hat saw both teams fronting up on the gain line ended with an early penalty for the visitors, which Thomas Ramos duly dispatched. However, a mistake from the fullback when trying to deal with James Lowe’s kick down the 5 metre channel gifted the hosts with a 5m lineout just a minute later, and though the maul was well defended, a series of strong Irish carries culminated in Andrew Porter driving over the line, only to be held up by his opposite number Cyril Baille. The net Irish attack was much more clinical; a dummy from Finlay Bealham to the looping Conor Murray created a gap for the tighthead to send Hugo Keenan through a gap on the fringe of a ruck and back himself to reach the line for the opening try after just 8 minutes. Ramos narrowed the gap with a try, and as the game began to open up and the play got extremely loose, the French found a chink in the Irish defence to put Anthony Jelonch through a gap, with a smart offload from the flanker sending Damian Penaud over. France were their own worst enemies though, Ramos’ clearance was charged down from the restart to gift the Irish with possession on the 22, and when the ball game wide to the left, James Lowe was adjudged to have successfully denied gravity to dot down as Penaud tried to tackle him into touch, Jonathan Sexton’s missed kick from the touchline just allowing Les Bleus to hold onto their lead. Things soon got worse for the French though after a monstrous collision between Uini Atonio and Rob Herring was reviewed for a head contact and resulted in a yellow for the French tighthead, and the Irish soon took advantage of the extra man to force his way over from close range. Ramos cut the lead by 3 as the visitors returned to a full complement, but as Romain Ntamack was intercepted trying a play that wasn’t on, Mack Hansen looked certain to score only to be manhandled away from the line by Antoine Dupont. Yet once again a French error in their own 22—this time a knock on from Jelonch on his own try line—gifted the Irish a chance, only for Cyril Baille to once again save the day by holding Conor Murray up over the line, while the Irish scrum half also found himself knocking on as he stretched for the line in the final seconds of the half, leading to the hosts settling for a Sexton penalty to end the half at 22-16.

The hosts were struck a blow early in the second half as Tadhg Beirne was helped off the pitch just 5 minutes after the restart, while Sexton’s match was brought to a premature end just minutes later. After throwing caution to the wind with their play int he first half, Les Bleus were playing a much more structured and territory-focused game in the second half, but when a 5-22 from Hugo Keenan gave Ireland a lineout deep in French territory, the hosts went through the phases to force a penalty, which Ross Byrne kicked to extend the lead to 9. Ramos responded with a drop goal just after the hour—his last act before being replaced by Matthieu Jalibert—but another French error within 10m of their line gifted Ireland another opportunity, only for replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher to be held up over the line. With Craig Casey upping the tempo from the bench at scrum half and combining with Byrne to keep the French pinned back, Garry Ringrose broke through Jalibert’s tackle out wide to go over with just 8 minutes left to earn the bonus point and secure a 32-19 victory.

Ireland

Hugo Keenan is just quietly going about his business becoming the best fullback in the world. There really appears to be no weakness to his game!

In attack, he has a great range of passing to ensure that him hitting the line will not negatively impact a move, an eye for a gap, and a fantastic blend of pace and agility to take advantage of any gap he finds, as highlighted by his try today. In defence, he is a reliable ackler, but really stands out is his positioning. And in the kicking game, he is dominant in the air—somewhat reminiscent of Rob Kearney with his reliability under the high ball—while covering the backfield in a way that makes it look easy, while his own kicking game is dangerous enough to allow him to turn a kicking duel in his favour.

It really is incredible to watch him play, and he must feel like such a comfort blanket to his teammates. He truly is a great example of how just doing the basics really well and being consistent can make you one of the best in the world.

France

Last week, I wrote about how Italy overplayed against France and it cost them the match. Well it seems that France looked at that performance and said “hold my glass of wine.” After 3 years of creating a structured but fluid attack, the team suddenly reverted to the French team of old, throwing the ball around with abandon.

Now of course, we know that the Irish defence is one of the best in the world, but by throwing the ball around how they were, the French were generally giving the Irish a chance to reset their defence, or in many cases actually set up a counterattack of their own. But even worse was how unnecessary it felt, as when they played their usual structured game, they were generally making good ground and winning penalties.

Yes attacking like that can lead to beautiful tries like Damian Penaud’s. However at this level of the game, you need something much more structured and reliable to consistently cause the best defences problems.


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