Ireland captain Rory Best has warned that the hosts will have to be at their best against a “lethal” French attack when the sides meet in the third round of the Six Nations at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday, writes Brendan O’Brien.
The visitors have begun to marry some of their traditional flair with the physical size and force that has been their modern trademark and the line is that they arrived in Ireland buoyed by a decent display in losing to England in London and a defeat of the Scots in Paris.
“They are very dangerous, especially if we give them turnover ball in broken field,” said Best. “They are going to be a real threat so we have to make sure that we keep the ball and put them under pressure when we have it and make them do a lot of tackling.”
The truth is that France are far from reborn.
Head coach Guy Noves is beginning to experience a trickle of criticism and stats that show just two tries in their opening two games - and only nine in seven Six Nations ties under the former Toulouse supremo - paint a very different picture to the one offered up by Ireland this week.
“They’ve got threats all over the park, haven’t they?” said Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. “If you talk about the back line they’ve got a fabulous running threat. A lot of that is complimented by the offloading game from the forwards and they are a big set and another coming off the bench.
“So, they will have a big impact there. The big lads that are a force going forward, that’s the challenge there, to make sure that we are meeting them going forward so the threat is nullified a little bit out wide.”
Farrell’s brief has come in for ever closer inspection since the concession of a hat-trick of first-half ties on opening day against the Scots and the average rate per game was running close to three every 80 minutes prior to the cakewalk away to Italy last time out.
“We’re happier with that progress,” Farrell said of that 63-10 Roman romp when Italy were restricted to just the one penalty try, “but tomorrow is a different kettle of fish. We have got to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Ireland face into the contest boosted by a clean bill of health. Farrell reported on Friday afternoon that everyone had come through the captain’s run on Lansdowne Road and that obviously includes Jonathan Sexton who returns after missing the first pair of fixtures.
Much is made of Sexton’s input on the attacking side of the coin but the Leinster man brings an all-round wealth of experience to proceedings that Paddy Jackson can’t yet match and Farrell was asked if that could play a part in securing the Irish defensive line.
“He’s got plenty energy, hasn’t he? If you look at Paddy’s performance last week (against Italy) so did he. It’s important because the ten has such a responsibility to run the side from an attacking point of view.
“But if he can show that commitment and desire in defence as well it speaks volumes for him as a person. Paddy did that against Italy. He led the line speed and the energy and that’s what Johnny brings week to week.”