You are viewing the content for Wednesday 8 February 2006

Major step-up needed in Paris

Ireland v ItalyBy Donal Lenihan
AS if spurred on by the quality of recent Heineken Cup clashes, the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations Championship provided high quality drama and even the long-awaited shock result.

With Grand Slam champions Wales dethroned at the first hurdle, the biggest shock saw tournament favourites France defeated by an outstanding performance from a rejuvenated Scottish side.

Scotland’s demise in this tournament over the past six years has been painful to watch. Like Ireland in the 1990s, the Scots have endured a period of humiliating results, which undermined their quality as an international force.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory could provide the necessary momentum for a decent championship.

At this early juncture, one suspects that the biggest winner from the weekend’s sequence of results was Andy Robinson. England have failed to live up to the billing of world champions since that famous evening in Sydney but look to have turned a corner.

While everyone outside of this country has warmly received Italy’s brave performance, the fact that they made life so difficult for Ireland again raises questions about the current wellbeing of this Irish team.

One really has to go back to the autumn of 2004 when Ireland scored a historic victory over South Africa to identify a performance which reflected the true quality within the squad.

With the majority of the same personnel on board, Ireland went to Twickenham two years ago and became the first team to defeat the newly crowned world champions.

The quality of interplay between backs and forwards in the build-up to Girvan Dempsey’s match winning try that day was as good as anything that New Zealand could produce.

Yet, for whatever reason, that level of continuity seems beyond the team at present. Since the start of last year’s championship, Ireland’s overall performance levels have waned.

For years, Ireland traded on the traditional characteristics of heart and passion to take the game to the opposition.

It was never sufficient to guarantee victory on a consistent basis. However, when allied with the tremendous improvements made in terms of physical, technical and tactical preparation, Ireland had proved a handful for all-comers.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of recent performances has been the lack of impassioned frenzy so characteristic in our make-up. After the game against Australia in November, the recently departed Eddie Jones commented with amazement at the lack of confrontation his side encountered at Lansdowne.

If anything, the French defeat in Murrayfield will make Saturday’s encounter in the Stade de France even more difficult for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men. The sight of a French pack being driven back 22 metres in the build-up to Scotland’s second try is sure to illicit a major response from the French eight.

Already coach Bernard Laporte has summoned seasoned internationals Serge Betsen, Oliver Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Pascal Pape to bolster the forward unit. I’ll be very surprised if Betsen fails to start.

France had major problems in their midfield due primarily to the loss of Yannick Jauzion prior to kick-off. The fact that Freddie Michalak was less than 100% fit also took its toll.

Jauzion’s direct replacement Ludovic Valbon had a nightmare and looks certain to be replaced by Damien Traille. The Biarritz centre is only recently back from injury and will be a far better foil for his midfield partner Florien Fritz.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s response to last Saturday’s performance is to select the same team (Denis Leamy’s availability permitting). It was always unlikely that he would go outside his original 22 for the opening two games. There is now a collective pressure on all the players to perform.

In recent seasons, Munster has suffered in the penultimate stages of the Heineken Cup from a lack of quality on the bench.

Impact players are all-important at the highest level. Look at England last Saturday. The introduction of seasoned campaigners Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Julian White had an immediate effect and contributed to England’s total dominance in the last quarter.

With the quality that France have called into their squad, you can be sure their bench will be fully utilised in the second half on Saturday.

By way of contrast, with the exception of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble, Ireland’s bench lacks real game-breakers. Hence only one substitute was introduced against Italy. This could have a major bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

For Ireland to have any hope of success in Paris, the forwards must attack the French up front with the same intensity Munster displayed against Sale.

In this respect Scotland showed the way with the positive return they generated throughout the game from their driving maul. If anything, Ireland are stronger in this department but must put it to good use from the start.

Defensively, Ireland also need to be far more aggressive and deny the French space. Michalak must attract the attention of Ireland’s back row early and often. The hangover from the successful Heineken Cup outings should be well and truly over.

The presence of the next generation of players, who form the Irish A side, in camp this week will surely help to focus the minds of some of the more seasoned campaigners.

I am delighted to see such rising talent as Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Tomas O’Leary all rewarded at this level. They will be severely tested. A positive performance from them and the journey to full international honours will be one step closer.

 

Major step-up needed in Paris

Ireland v ItalyBy Donal Lenihan
AS if spurred on by the quality of recent Heineken Cup clashes, the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations Championship provided high quality drama and even the long-awaited shock result.

With Grand Slam champions Wales dethroned at the first hurdle, the biggest shock saw tournament favourites France defeated by an outstanding performance from a rejuvenated Scottish side.

Scotland’s demise in this tournament over the past six years has been painful to watch. Like Ireland in the 1990s, the Scots have endured a period of humiliating results, which undermined their quality as an international force.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory could provide the necessary momentum for a decent championship.

At this early juncture, one suspects that the biggest winner from the weekend’s sequence of results was Andy Robinson. England have failed to live up to the billing of world champions since that famous evening in Sydney but look to have turned a corner.

While everyone outside of this country has warmly received Italy’s brave performance, the fact that they made life so difficult for Ireland again raises questions about the current wellbeing of this Irish team.

One really has to go back to the autumn of 2004 when Ireland scored a historic victory over South Africa to identify a performance which reflected the true quality within the squad.

With the majority of the same personnel on board, Ireland went to Twickenham two years ago and became the first team to defeat the newly crowned world champions.

The quality of interplay between backs and forwards in the build-up to Girvan Dempsey’s match winning try that day was as good as anything that New Zealand could produce.

Yet, for whatever reason, that level of continuity seems beyond the team at present. Since the start of last year’s championship, Ireland’s overall performance levels have waned.

For years, Ireland traded on the traditional characteristics of heart and passion to take the game to the opposition.

It was never sufficient to guarantee victory on a consistent basis. However, when allied with the tremendous improvements made in terms of physical, technical and tactical preparation, Ireland had proved a handful for all-comers.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of recent performances has been the lack of impassioned frenzy so characteristic in our make-up. After the game against Australia in November, the recently departed Eddie Jones commented with amazement at the lack of confrontation his side encountered at Lansdowne.

If anything, the French defeat in Murrayfield will make Saturday’s encounter in the Stade de France even more difficult for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men. The sight of a French pack being driven back 22 metres in the build-up to Scotland’s second try is sure to illicit a major response from the French eight.

Already coach Bernard Laporte has summoned seasoned internationals Serge Betsen, Oliver Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Pascal Pape to bolster the forward unit. I’ll be very surprised if Betsen fails to start.

France had major problems in their midfield due primarily to the loss of Yannick Jauzion prior to kick-off. The fact that Freddie Michalak was less than 100% fit also took its toll.

Jauzion’s direct replacement Ludovic Valbon had a nightmare and looks certain to be replaced by Damien Traille. The Biarritz centre is only recently back from injury and will be a far better foil for his midfield partner Florien Fritz.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s response to last Saturday’s performance is to select the same team (Denis Leamy’s availability permitting). It was always unlikely that he would go outside his original 22 for the opening two games. There is now a collective pressure on all the players to perform.

In recent seasons, Munster has suffered in the penultimate stages of the Heineken Cup from a lack of quality on the bench.

Impact players are all-important at the highest level. Look at England last Saturday. The introduction of seasoned campaigners Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Julian White had an immediate effect and contributed to England’s total dominance in the last quarter.

With the quality that France have called into their squad, you can be sure their bench will be fully utilised in the second half on Saturday.

By way of contrast, with the exception of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble, Ireland’s bench lacks real game-breakers. Hence only one substitute was introduced against Italy. This could have a major bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

For Ireland to have any hope of success in Paris, the forwards must attack the French up front with the same intensity Munster displayed against Sale.

In this respect Scotland showed the way with the positive return they generated throughout the game from their driving maul. If anything, Ireland are stronger in this department but must put it to good use from the start.

Defensively, Ireland also need to be far more aggressive and deny the French space. Michalak must attract the attention of Ireland’s back row early and often. The hangover from the successful Heineken Cup outings should be well and truly over.

The presence of the next generation of players, who form the Irish A side, in camp this week will surely help to focus the minds of some of the more seasoned campaigners.

I am delighted to see such rising talent as Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Tomas O’Leary all rewarded at this level. They will be severely tested. A positive performance from them and the journey to full international honours will be one step closer.

 

Major step-up needed in Paris

Ireland v ItalyBy Donal Lenihan
AS if spurred on by the quality of recent Heineken Cup clashes, the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations Championship provided high quality drama and even the long-awaited shock result.

With Grand Slam champions Wales dethroned at the first hurdle, the biggest shock saw tournament favourites France defeated by an outstanding performance from a rejuvenated Scottish side.

Scotland’s demise in this tournament over the past six years has been painful to watch. Like Ireland in the 1990s, the Scots have endured a period of humiliating results, which undermined their quality as an international force.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory could provide the necessary momentum for a decent championship.

At this early juncture, one suspects that the biggest winner from the weekend’s sequence of results was Andy Robinson. England have failed to live up to the billing of world champions since that famous evening in Sydney but look to have turned a corner.

While everyone outside of this country has warmly received Italy’s brave performance, the fact that they made life so difficult for Ireland again raises questions about the current wellbeing of this Irish team.

One really has to go back to the autumn of 2004 when Ireland scored a historic victory over South Africa to identify a performance which reflected the true quality within the squad.

With the majority of the same personnel on board, Ireland went to Twickenham two years ago and became the first team to defeat the newly crowned world champions.

The quality of interplay between backs and forwards in the build-up to Girvan Dempsey’s match winning try that day was as good as anything that New Zealand could produce.

Yet, for whatever reason, that level of continuity seems beyond the team at present. Since the start of last year’s championship, Ireland’s overall performance levels have waned.

For years, Ireland traded on the traditional characteristics of heart and passion to take the game to the opposition.

It was never sufficient to guarantee victory on a consistent basis. However, when allied with the tremendous improvements made in terms of physical, technical and tactical preparation, Ireland had proved a handful for all-comers.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of recent performances has been the lack of impassioned frenzy so characteristic in our make-up. After the game against Australia in November, the recently departed Eddie Jones commented with amazement at the lack of confrontation his side encountered at Lansdowne.

If anything, the French defeat in Murrayfield will make Saturday’s encounter in the Stade de France even more difficult for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men. The sight of a French pack being driven back 22 metres in the build-up to Scotland’s second try is sure to illicit a major response from the French eight.

Already coach Bernard Laporte has summoned seasoned internationals Serge Betsen, Oliver Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Pascal Pape to bolster the forward unit. I’ll be very surprised if Betsen fails to start.

France had major problems in their midfield due primarily to the loss of Yannick Jauzion prior to kick-off. The fact that Freddie Michalak was less than 100% fit also took its toll.

Jauzion’s direct replacement Ludovic Valbon had a nightmare and looks certain to be replaced by Damien Traille. The Biarritz centre is only recently back from injury and will be a far better foil for his midfield partner Florien Fritz.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s response to last Saturday’s performance is to select the same team (Denis Leamy’s availability permitting). It was always unlikely that he would go outside his original 22 for the opening two games. There is now a collective pressure on all the players to perform.

In recent seasons, Munster has suffered in the penultimate stages of the Heineken Cup from a lack of quality on the bench.

Impact players are all-important at the highest level. Look at England last Saturday. The introduction of seasoned campaigners Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Julian White had an immediate effect and contributed to England’s total dominance in the last quarter.

With the quality that France have called into their squad, you can be sure their bench will be fully utilised in the second half on Saturday.

By way of contrast, with the exception of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble, Ireland’s bench lacks real game-breakers. Hence only one substitute was introduced against Italy. This could have a major bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

For Ireland to have any hope of success in Paris, the forwards must attack the French up front with the same intensity Munster displayed against Sale.

In this respect Scotland showed the way with the positive return they generated throughout the game from their driving maul. If anything, Ireland are stronger in this department but must put it to good use from the start.

Defensively, Ireland also need to be far more aggressive and deny the French space. Michalak must attract the attention of Ireland’s back row early and often. The hangover from the successful Heineken Cup outings should be well and truly over.

The presence of the next generation of players, who form the Irish A side, in camp this week will surely help to focus the minds of some of the more seasoned campaigners.

I am delighted to see such rising talent as Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Tomas O’Leary all rewarded at this level. They will be severely tested. A positive performance from them and the journey to full international honours will be one step closer.

 

Major step-up needed in Paris

Ireland v ItalyBy Donal Lenihan
AS if spurred on by the quality of recent Heineken Cup clashes, the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations Championship provided high quality drama and even the long-awaited shock result.

With Grand Slam champions Wales dethroned at the first hurdle, the biggest shock saw tournament favourites France defeated by an outstanding performance from a rejuvenated Scottish side.

Scotland’s demise in this tournament over the past six years has been painful to watch. Like Ireland in the 1990s, the Scots have endured a period of humiliating results, which undermined their quality as an international force.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory could provide the necessary momentum for a decent championship.

At this early juncture, one suspects that the biggest winner from the weekend’s sequence of results was Andy Robinson. England have failed to live up to the billing of world champions since that famous evening in Sydney but look to have turned a corner.

While everyone outside of this country has warmly received Italy’s brave performance, the fact that they made life so difficult for Ireland again raises questions about the current wellbeing of this Irish team.

One really has to go back to the autumn of 2004 when Ireland scored a historic victory over South Africa to identify a performance which reflected the true quality within the squad.

With the majority of the same personnel on board, Ireland went to Twickenham two years ago and became the first team to defeat the newly crowned world champions.

The quality of interplay between backs and forwards in the build-up to Girvan Dempsey’s match winning try that day was as good as anything that New Zealand could produce.

Yet, for whatever reason, that level of continuity seems beyond the team at present. Since the start of last year’s championship, Ireland’s overall performance levels have waned.

For years, Ireland traded on the traditional characteristics of heart and passion to take the game to the opposition.

It was never sufficient to guarantee victory on a consistent basis. However, when allied with the tremendous improvements made in terms of physical, technical and tactical preparation, Ireland had proved a handful for all-comers.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of recent performances has been the lack of impassioned frenzy so characteristic in our make-up. After the game against Australia in November, the recently departed Eddie Jones commented with amazement at the lack of confrontation his side encountered at Lansdowne.

If anything, the French defeat in Murrayfield will make Saturday’s encounter in the Stade de France even more difficult for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men. The sight of a French pack being driven back 22 metres in the build-up to Scotland’s second try is sure to illicit a major response from the French eight.

Already coach Bernard Laporte has summoned seasoned internationals Serge Betsen, Oliver Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Pascal Pape to bolster the forward unit. I’ll be very surprised if Betsen fails to start.

France had major problems in their midfield due primarily to the loss of Yannick Jauzion prior to kick-off. The fact that Freddie Michalak was less than 100% fit also took its toll.

Jauzion’s direct replacement Ludovic Valbon had a nightmare and looks certain to be replaced by Damien Traille. The Biarritz centre is only recently back from injury and will be a far better foil for his midfield partner Florien Fritz.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s response to last Saturday’s performance is to select the same team (Denis Leamy’s availability permitting). It was always unlikely that he would go outside his original 22 for the opening two games. There is now a collective pressure on all the players to perform.

In recent seasons, Munster has suffered in the penultimate stages of the Heineken Cup from a lack of quality on the bench.

Impact players are all-important at the highest level. Look at England last Saturday. The introduction of seasoned campaigners Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Julian White had an immediate effect and contributed to England’s total dominance in the last quarter.

With the quality that France have called into their squad, you can be sure their bench will be fully utilised in the second half on Saturday.

By way of contrast, with the exception of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble, Ireland’s bench lacks real game-breakers. Hence only one substitute was introduced against Italy. This could have a major bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

For Ireland to have any hope of success in Paris, the forwards must attack the French up front with the same intensity Munster displayed against Sale.

In this respect Scotland showed the way with the positive return they generated throughout the game from their driving maul. If anything, Ireland are stronger in this department but must put it to good use from the start.

Defensively, Ireland also need to be far more aggressive and deny the French space. Michalak must attract the attention of Ireland’s back row early and often. The hangover from the successful Heineken Cup outings should be well and truly over.

The presence of the next generation of players, who form the Irish A side, in camp this week will surely help to focus the minds of some of the more seasoned campaigners.

I am delighted to see such rising talent as Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Tomas O’Leary all rewarded at this level. They will be severely tested. A positive performance from them and the journey to full international honours will be one step closer.

 

Major step-up needed in Paris

Ireland v ItalyBy Donal Lenihan
AS if spurred on by the quality of recent Heineken Cup clashes, the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations Championship provided high quality drama and even the long-awaited shock result.

With Grand Slam champions Wales dethroned at the first hurdle, the biggest shock saw tournament favourites France defeated by an outstanding performance from a rejuvenated Scottish side.

Scotland’s demise in this tournament over the past six years has been painful to watch. Like Ireland in the 1990s, the Scots have endured a period of humiliating results, which undermined their quality as an international force.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory could provide the necessary momentum for a decent championship.

At this early juncture, one suspects that the biggest winner from the weekend’s sequence of results was Andy Robinson. England have failed to live up to the billing of world champions since that famous evening in Sydney but look to have turned a corner.

While everyone outside of this country has warmly received Italy’s brave performance, the fact that they made life so difficult for Ireland again raises questions about the current wellbeing of this Irish team.

One really has to go back to the autumn of 2004 when Ireland scored a historic victory over South Africa to identify a performance which reflected the true quality within the squad.

With the majority of the same personnel on board, Ireland went to Twickenham two years ago and became the first team to defeat the newly crowned world champions.

The quality of interplay between backs and forwards in the build-up to Girvan Dempsey’s match winning try that day was as good as anything that New Zealand could produce.

Yet, for whatever reason, that level of continuity seems beyond the team at present. Since the start of last year’s championship, Ireland’s overall performance levels have waned.

For years, Ireland traded on the traditional characteristics of heart and passion to take the game to the opposition.

It was never sufficient to guarantee victory on a consistent basis. However, when allied with the tremendous improvements made in terms of physical, technical and tactical preparation, Ireland had proved a handful for all-comers.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of recent performances has been the lack of impassioned frenzy so characteristic in our make-up. After the game against Australia in November, the recently departed Eddie Jones commented with amazement at the lack of confrontation his side encountered at Lansdowne.

If anything, the French defeat in Murrayfield will make Saturday’s encounter in the Stade de France even more difficult for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men. The sight of a French pack being driven back 22 metres in the build-up to Scotland’s second try is sure to illicit a major response from the French eight.

Already coach Bernard Laporte has summoned seasoned internationals Serge Betsen, Oliver Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Pascal Pape to bolster the forward unit. I’ll be very surprised if Betsen fails to start.

France had major problems in their midfield due primarily to the loss of Yannick Jauzion prior to kick-off. The fact that Freddie Michalak was less than 100% fit also took its toll.

Jauzion’s direct replacement Ludovic Valbon had a nightmare and looks certain to be replaced by Damien Traille. The Biarritz centre is only recently back from injury and will be a far better foil for his midfield partner Florien Fritz.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s response to last Saturday’s performance is to select the same team (Denis Leamy’s availability permitting). It was always unlikely that he would go outside his original 22 for the opening two games. There is now a collective pressure on all the players to perform.

In recent seasons, Munster has suffered in the penultimate stages of the Heineken Cup from a lack of quality on the bench.

Impact players are all-important at the highest level. Look at England last Saturday. The introduction of seasoned campaigners Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Julian White had an immediate effect and contributed to England’s total dominance in the last quarter.

With the quality that France have called into their squad, you can be sure their bench will be fully utilised in the second half on Saturday.

By way of contrast, with the exception of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble, Ireland’s bench lacks real game-breakers. Hence only one substitute was introduced against Italy. This could have a major bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

For Ireland to have any hope of success in Paris, the forwards must attack the French up front with the same intensity Munster displayed against Sale.

In this respect Scotland showed the way with the positive return they generated throughout the game from their driving maul. If anything, Ireland are stronger in this department but must put it to good use from the start.

Defensively, Ireland also need to be far more aggressive and deny the French space. Michalak must attract the attention of Ireland’s back row early and often. The hangover from the successful Heineken Cup outings should be well and truly over.

The presence of the next generation of players, who form the Irish A side, in camp this week will surely help to focus the minds of some of the more seasoned campaigners.

I am delighted to see such rising talent as Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Tomas O’Leary all rewarded at this level. They will be severely tested. A positive performance from them and the journey to full international honours will be one step closer.

 

Major step-up needed in Paris

Ireland v ItalyBy Donal Lenihan
AS if spurred on by the quality of recent Heineken Cup clashes, the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations Championship provided high quality drama and even the long-awaited shock result.

With Grand Slam champions Wales dethroned at the first hurdle, the biggest shock saw tournament favourites France defeated by an outstanding performance from a rejuvenated Scottish side.

Scotland’s demise in this tournament over the past six years has been painful to watch. Like Ireland in the 1990s, the Scots have endured a period of humiliating results, which undermined their quality as an international force.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory could provide the necessary momentum for a decent championship.

At this early juncture, one suspects that the biggest winner from the weekend’s sequence of results was Andy Robinson. England have failed to live up to the billing of world champions since that famous evening in Sydney but look to have turned a corner.

While everyone outside of this country has warmly received Italy’s brave performance, the fact that they made life so difficult for Ireland again raises questions about the current wellbeing of this Irish team.

One really has to go back to the autumn of 2004 when Ireland scored a historic victory over South Africa to identify a performance which reflected the true quality within the squad.

With the majority of the same personnel on board, Ireland went to Twickenham two years ago and became the first team to defeat the newly crowned world champions.

The quality of interplay between backs and forwards in the build-up to Girvan Dempsey’s match winning try that day was as good as anything that New Zealand could produce.

Yet, for whatever reason, that level of continuity seems beyond the team at present. Since the start of last year’s championship, Ireland’s overall performance levels have waned.

For years, Ireland traded on the traditional characteristics of heart and passion to take the game to the opposition.

It was never sufficient to guarantee victory on a consistent basis. However, when allied with the tremendous improvements made in terms of physical, technical and tactical preparation, Ireland had proved a handful for all-comers.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of recent performances has been the lack of impassioned frenzy so characteristic in our make-up. After the game against Australia in November, the recently departed Eddie Jones commented with amazement at the lack of confrontation his side encountered at Lansdowne.

If anything, the French defeat in Murrayfield will make Saturday’s encounter in the Stade de France even more difficult for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men. The sight of a French pack being driven back 22 metres in the build-up to Scotland’s second try is sure to illicit a major response from the French eight.

Already coach Bernard Laporte has summoned seasoned internationals Serge Betsen, Oliver Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Pascal Pape to bolster the forward unit. I’ll be very surprised if Betsen fails to start.

France had major problems in their midfield due primarily to the loss of Yannick Jauzion prior to kick-off. The fact that Freddie Michalak was less than 100% fit also took its toll.

Jauzion’s direct replacement Ludovic Valbon had a nightmare and looks certain to be replaced by Damien Traille. The Biarritz centre is only recently back from injury and will be a far better foil for his midfield partner Florien Fritz.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s response to last Saturday’s performance is to select the same team (Denis Leamy’s availability permitting). It was always unlikely that he would go outside his original 22 for the opening two games. There is now a collective pressure on all the players to perform.

In recent seasons, Munster has suffered in the penultimate stages of the Heineken Cup from a lack of quality on the bench.

Impact players are all-important at the highest level. Look at England last Saturday. The introduction of seasoned campaigners Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Julian White had an immediate effect and contributed to England’s total dominance in the last quarter.

With the quality that France have called into their squad, you can be sure their bench will be fully utilised in the second half on Saturday.

By way of contrast, with the exception of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble, Ireland’s bench lacks real game-breakers. Hence only one substitute was introduced against Italy. This could have a major bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

For Ireland to have any hope of success in Paris, the forwards must attack the French up front with the same intensity Munster displayed against Sale.

In this respect Scotland showed the way with the positive return they generated throughout the game from their driving maul. If anything, Ireland are stronger in this department but must put it to good use from the start.

Defensively, Ireland also need to be far more aggressive and deny the French space. Michalak must attract the attention of Ireland’s back row early and often. The hangover from the successful Heineken Cup outings should be well and truly over.

The presence of the next generation of players, who form the Irish A side, in camp this week will surely help to focus the minds of some of the more seasoned campaigners.

I am delighted to see such rising talent as Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Tomas O’Leary all rewarded at this level. They will be severely tested. A positive performance from them and the journey to full international honours will be one step closer.

 

Major step-up needed in Paris

Ireland v ItalyBy Donal Lenihan
AS if spurred on by the quality of recent Heineken Cup clashes, the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations Championship provided high quality drama and even the long-awaited shock result.

With Grand Slam champions Wales dethroned at the first hurdle, the biggest shock saw tournament favourites France defeated by an outstanding performance from a rejuvenated Scottish side.

Scotland’s demise in this tournament over the past six years has been painful to watch. Like Ireland in the 1990s, the Scots have endured a period of humiliating results, which undermined their quality as an international force.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory could provide the necessary momentum for a decent championship.

At this early juncture, one suspects that the biggest winner from the weekend’s sequence of results was Andy Robinson. England have failed to live up to the billing of world champions since that famous evening in Sydney but look to have turned a corner.

While everyone outside of this country has warmly received Italy’s brave performance, the fact that they made life so difficult for Ireland again raises questions about the current wellbeing of this Irish team.

One really has to go back to the autumn of 2004 when Ireland scored a historic victory over South Africa to identify a performance which reflected the true quality within the squad.

With the majority of the same personnel on board, Ireland went to Twickenham two years ago and became the first team to defeat the newly crowned world champions.

The quality of interplay between backs and forwards in the build-up to Girvan Dempsey’s match winning try that day was as good as anything that New Zealand could produce.

Yet, for whatever reason, that level of continuity seems beyond the team at present. Since the start of last year’s championship, Ireland’s overall performance levels have waned.

For years, Ireland traded on the traditional characteristics of heart and passion to take the game to the opposition.

It was never sufficient to guarantee victory on a consistent basis. However, when allied with the tremendous improvements made in terms of physical, technical and tactical preparation, Ireland had proved a handful for all-comers.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of recent performances has been the lack of impassioned frenzy so characteristic in our make-up. After the game against Australia in November, the recently departed Eddie Jones commented with amazement at the lack of confrontation his side encountered at Lansdowne.

If anything, the French defeat in Murrayfield will make Saturday’s encounter in the Stade de France even more difficult for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men. The sight of a French pack being driven back 22 metres in the build-up to Scotland’s second try is sure to illicit a major response from the French eight.

Already coach Bernard Laporte has summoned seasoned internationals Serge Betsen, Oliver Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Pascal Pape to bolster the forward unit. I’ll be very surprised if Betsen fails to start.

France had major problems in their midfield due primarily to the loss of Yannick Jauzion prior to kick-off. The fact that Freddie Michalak was less than 100% fit also took its toll.

Jauzion’s direct replacement Ludovic Valbon had a nightmare and looks certain to be replaced by Damien Traille. The Biarritz centre is only recently back from injury and will be a far better foil for his midfield partner Florien Fritz.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s response to last Saturday’s performance is to select the same team (Denis Leamy’s availability permitting). It was always unlikely that he would go outside his original 22 for the opening two games. There is now a collective pressure on all the players to perform.

In recent seasons, Munster has suffered in the penultimate stages of the Heineken Cup from a lack of quality on the bench.

Impact players are all-important at the highest level. Look at England last Saturday. The introduction of seasoned campaigners Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Julian White had an immediate effect and contributed to England’s total dominance in the last quarter.

With the quality that France have called into their squad, you can be sure their bench will be fully utilised in the second half on Saturday.

By way of contrast, with the exception of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Andrew Trimble, Ireland’s bench lacks real game-breakers. Hence only one substitute was introduced against Italy. This could have a major bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

For Ireland to have any hope of success in Paris, the forwards must attack the French up front with the same intensity Munster displayed against Sale.

In this respect Scotland showed the way with the positive return they generated throughout the game from their driving maul. If anything, Ireland are stronger in this department but must put it to good use from the start.

Defensively, Ireland also need to be far more aggressive and deny the French space. Michalak must attract the attention of Ireland’s back row early and often. The hangover from the successful Heineken Cup outings should be well and truly over.

The presence of the next generation of players, who form the Irish A side, in camp this week will surely help to focus the minds of some of the more seasoned campaigners.

I am delighted to see such rising talent as Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Tomas O’Leary all rewarded at this level. They will be severely tested. A positive performance from them and the journey to full international honours will be one step closer.