Why we mustn’t forget Paris

Having only won once in Paris over the last 40 years, a draw should have been a positive for Ireland.

However, this team and the rugby public have set the bar higher since establishing the base to dominate club rugby in Europe.

When you look through the statistics, that sense of disappointment grows. I don’t think I have ever heard Declan Kidney use the word “disgusted” about a penalty count against us before but on this occasion, he may be wrong.

The stats tell us we conceded 11 penalties and two free kicks while France were penalised four times and conceded one free kick.

While Dave Pearson hasn’t had a great Six Nations officiating so far, and was certainly eagle-eyed on Ireland at the breakdown and the hindmost foot, we made a lot of mistakes.

Yes we were wrongly penalised for going off our feet when we counter-rucked brilliantly from a Rob Kearney kick and chase, even though the ball was clearly on our side of the ruck. But we also got the rub of the green. Cian Healy should have been sin-binned for impeding a very dangerous French attack after running into Vincent Clerc from an offside position.

When France changed tactics from going wide in the second half to a pick-and-go type game, we didn’t react quickly enough to the referee’s communication to release or roll away. As the French built the phases, we started to creep offside and paid the price.

We also made eight handling errors as opposed to France’s one and only mistake. That meant we had only three feeds into the scrum compared to France’s 10.

Our kicking strategy was based on getting the ball well into touch so the French back three couldn’t take a quick throw. We gave them 11 lineout throws so we must have felt we could disrupt their throw, which had been poor against Scotland the previous week. France were reluctant to give us lineout throws and we only had five throws. We lost two and another was knocked on.

As predicted, the pace of the game was very slow in the first half for a Six Nations game. In fact the last time Ireland played a game at this speed was our World Cup clash with Australia. France upped the speed of the game in the second half and it certainly helped them.

We will be playing on Scotland’s terms this weekend. They have the highest percentage of possession, with 61.5% in the championship while Ireland are back in fifth with 45.3%. Territory presents the same picture, with Scotland 54% and Ireland lowest at 45.7%.

But that isn’t a reason to be pessimistic. Their superiority in possession and territory isn’t converted into tries as Scotland are taking 22 minutes and 26 seconds on average to score a try while Ireland are the best in the competition scoring every six minutes and 21 seconds they have the ball.

Scotland confound the statistics. They have the second best record in the competition for breaking tackles, one every 6.9 attempts. It should be leading to more scores for them.

But most of those tackles are in close around the rucks for small gains. They kick less than any other team in the competition, one every 73 seconds so expect them to put the ball under the jumper and try to grind Ireland down with rucks and mauls.

This is where Ireland will target them. As we have the highest rate of ruck steals in the competition, turning over 6.6% of the opposition’s rucks, expect big games from our back row.

Add to that Scotland have the highest number of lost possessions and Ireland the lowest, 21.3 versus 14 respectively, and you can see where Declan Kidney’s team talks will be focused.

Scotland also conceded the highest amount of infringements, 27%, at scrum time although because the match is being played on Saturday, Euan Murray will play and that will strengthen their scrum. All in all there is plenty to worry us from Scotland but plenty to target as well.


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