The road to glory: France 19 Ireland 12
I’d forgotten how bad it was to listen to the studio analysis on RTE and having watched Australian coverage of the Tri Nations match a few hours earlier the contrast in the studio chat couldn’t have been more extreme.
On Fox’s coverage of the Tri Nations game the panel seemed determined to talk about the game they were actually watching, making valid and considered points about the team and individual performances without too much fuss.
On RTE it was hysterical overreaction and me, me, me. So determined was Hook to get in the spotlight that I kept expecting to see him push his face into the shots of the other panellists. They may very well have said something sensible about the match and the performance but it was all lost to me in the sanctimonious over reaction as they tried to be more and more controversial.
Anyway, to the match, though it was treated as a side-show by RTE, it is, after all, what we were all tuning in to see.
It was an enjoyable enough match, not of a particularly high standard, and both sides looked more to individual performances than team play.
France comprehensively dominated the first half and Ireland improved in the second, though how much was due to France slipping out of gear and Ireland bringing on some of the big names is difficult to gauge as it did have a bit of role play about it with, for example, Paul O’Connell given a bit more respect in this game than he would have been in a full blooded encounter.
For all O’Connor’s endeavours though, France did seem to slip easily back up the gears to pull away reasonably comfortably in the end.
Of the individual performances a few players on the fringes did manage to nail down their places with Kearney and Trimble easily the outstanding performers in a back line bereft of many attacking ideas. The defence was generally sound and it was a piece of individual magic that managed to breach the line.
Nothing was really decided with Jones, Earls, Fitzgerald, McFadden and Wallace with, contrary to the opinion of the Southern press, Wallace having the better game of that quartet. Jones looked lively but put a lot of effort into doing nothing, Earls looked lost and off the pace and Fitzgerald and McFadden paled in comparison to Trimble. Wallace was the most comfortable in midfield but also failed to contribute much in attack.
O’Gara had his usual game, solid and reliable and both scrumhalfs were OK with neither spectacular.
Serious problems in the front row, outside of Healy and Ross, with Buckles an embarrassment. Best and Cullen were exceptionally poor in the line out with Rory unfortunately the biggest culprit in my book. He really needs to get it sorted as Flannery is so far off the pace Ireland may be out of the World Cup before the Munster man hits his straps.
Cullen’s worst game for a long time and he may rue this outing, and the back row, though well out classed by the French starting trio, did OK considering their makeshift nature.
Not great but not the end of the world as it has to be remembered that this is still a time for experimentation for Ireland. We won’t learn much from this week’s meaningless game against Connacht but things should start to fall into place for the return against France and the final fixture against England.