Rassie Erasmus' 'soft' jibe should steel Ireland for Paris collisions 

'They are not softies, they're not like Ireland,' Erasmus said of Wales to his Springboks during his pre-match team talk ahead of their 2019 World Cup semi-final
Rassie Erasmus' 'soft' jibe should steel Ireland for Paris collisions 

Simon Easterby: 'We've been working with John (Fogarty) on the scrum and the contact area, myself at the lineout time'. Picture: INPHO/IRFU/Ryan Bailey

Rassie Erasmus did much for Irish rugby during his two years here at the Munster helm but his greatest contribution could come tonight if his words provide the impetus for achieving Six Nations glory in Paris.

"They are not softies, they're not like Ireland,” Erasmus said of Wales to his Springboks during his pre-match team talk ahead of their 2019 World Cup semi-final. The moment was captured in Chasing The Sun, the documentary charting South Africa’s remarkable journey to success in Japan 11 months ago. The former Munster director of rugby also took down England in comparison and it clearly inspired his Boks to victory in both the semi and final.

It could also prove effective when Ireland assistant Simon Easterby informs his forwards of the slight visited upon them by one of the sport’s most respected figures ahead of their potential Guinness Six Nations title decider against France this evening.

Easterby heard of the Erasmus quote — which continued: “They're not like England, who goes away. They are tough f******s" — for the first time after yesterday’s captain’s run at Stade de France when he faced the media during a video call from the stadium.

Taking a little time to digest the insult to Irish pride, the former Ireland back-rower came out fighting: "Listen, if that's Rassie's opinion then clearly that's something that he has used to try and motivate his players to put in a performance against the Welsh. It is what it is. It's not something I'd take too much time mulling over.

I know you'll see a performance tomorrow that, regardless of what Rassie Erasmus has said in that quote, would suggest otherwise.

"I can't wait to see what we're going to deliver, the stuff from the forward pack. We've been working with John (Fogarty) on the scrum and the contact area, myself at the lineout time.

"We have to get on the front foot, to do that we have to have a mentality and a mindset to go after the French.

"What other people's perception of us is, it's exactly that, it's someone else's opinion.

"We can only control what we can control and that is being physical tomorrow. We have to win collisions, we have to do it as a unit, as a forward pack.” 

Though Erasmus had been playing to the gallery to light a fire under his players ahead of the biggest game of their careers to that point, there had been evidence that Ireland had simply not cut it in terms of physicality.

Just the week before that semi-final, the All Blacks had blown Joe Schmidt’s team away in the quarters, just as England had done on the two occasions Ireland faced them in 2019.

Yet both new head coach Andy Farrell and Easterby detect some added steel these days, certainly enough to give them confidence that a potentially bruising encounter with France will not be another power-packed ordeal for their team.

"There is a real single-mindedness about some of these players,” Easterby said, “that gives me massive confidence, that gives us massive confidence as a coaching group to know that they can go out and perform.

"It's like anything, there's always that 'we've got to go out and perform and be physical', but I genuinely think this team is starting to understand what it takes to be physical, what it takes to win collisions, what it takes to prevent the opposition from getting into the game.

"Yeah, you're correct, there's times in the last 20 months when we haven't won those and that's all clear for people to see.

But don't underestimate what this group can do.

"We're building and we've taken a lot of positives out of last weekend, but it is one performance and we know there's going to be a step up again this weekend and, in particular, in that physicality and those collisions that we have to win both sides of the ball.” 

The problem for Ireland is the need to do all that to not only stop a buoyant and rejuvenated France side but also score four tries in victory to be sure of claiming the title.

The Ireland management has been preaching the need for a process-driven approach all week, not to get distracted and chase tries but to secure the win first and foremost.

The consequences of not doing so are potentially catastrophic against a French team only too capable of thriving in an unstructured game, as Easterby pointed out yesterday.

"It seems to us that they're given a freedom to play an offloading game and their ability to win collisions and then keep the ball alive is very French in that they run good support lines.

"There will be some big men running into other big men but they've won a lot of collisions over the course of the first four rounds. They've got a pair of half-backs (Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack) that can certainly have a massive impact on the game if they get on that front foot, so it doesn't change anything for us.

"We have to go meet them, attack them without the ball. We have to produce quick ball ourselves and make sure that we get on the front foot when we have the opportunity and make good decisions. It's clearly going to be an arm wrestle at times and the more of those we can win, the more opportunities we will create on both sides of the ball."

Super Saturday has dawned but do not expect Ireland to rush headlong into an end-to-end free-for-all when their turn comes in the final act.

This is going to be a game that will have to be won the hard way first and then we will see how many tries follow.

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