Ireland’s loss to Wales creates uncertainty as Six Nations gathers momentum | Sunday Observer

Ireland’s loss to Wales creates uncertainty as Six Nations gathers momentum

14 February, 2021
Action in the game between Ireland and Wales
Action in the game between Ireland and Wales

Ireland’s camp will be an edgy place this week - having lost their opener against Wales, they know the consequences of losing at home to France are daunting.

Edgy doesn’t necessarily mean bad, as long as the team manage to channel their energy the right way.

In recent days the coaches will have picked the bones of the Wales game; set the scene, provided all the analysis and detail the players need in order to make improvements to the overall performance.

But as we approach the end of the week, the players will start taking charge and increasingly it’s up to them to find the right emotional pitch that they will need to beat France.

It is worth looking at some of the positive elements of Ireland’s display in Cardiff, because there were a few, but it is also worth noting that the Six Nations is about winning five matches.

If this was a long league season you would look at that performance and pick the positives, understanding that you can do better in certain aspects but knowing you have a really good base to build on.

Unfortunately this is the Six Nations, which makes this a sprint not a marathon. Promising performance or not, Ireland are on the back foot now.

What we did see were the green shoots in the line-out that we had hoped for, particularly the defensive line-out which was outstanding, while Ireland now look like a team that can keep hold of the ball, generate momentum and get fast ball with their ruck.

Their general shape and kicking game was solid, you could see largely what they were trying to do.

There was plenty for them to build on, which is why it’s such a shame that the Six Nations is only a five-game tournament and the first game dictates your mood.

As for Peter O’Mahony’s red card, there is not much that has not been said already: Pete put his team in a tough spot and will be all too aware of that, but Ireland can’t use that as an excuse - they had ample opportunity to win the game.

Billy Burns will be equally disappointed, probably more than he will ever be able to put into words. This is a level where those little moments really matter, and he will have felt that ever since the final kick of Sunday’s game.

One mistake at the end of a game will not decide his international future and as Ronan O’Gara said, it’s about making sure it isn’t replicated.

Based on Wales’ performance on Sunday it is hard to see them winning their next four - and while you wouldn’t want to rule out Scotland after their magnificent showing at Twickenham, they still have to go to France, which makes Fabien Galthie’s side the ones to beat.

This is a team that look to finally have rid themselves of their mercurial tag and are now the real deal.

Galthie can take great credit. He has injected youth into the side, but the biggest thing he’s managed to do is bring a consistency to selection.

In past years France have been constantly changing their starting line-up from a pool of as many as 40 players, it felt all over the place.

Under Galthie they have selection stability, and that provides the players within the system with confidence and familiarity. That builds resilience, and resilience is the key ingredient to winning away games at Test level.

They have a new mindset, a new culture building, but if you want to look at raw talent they have what every top team in the world needs: world-class half-backs.

Even with Romain Ntamack out, the amount of responsibility Antoine Dupont is taking on in terms of dictating the play is allowing Matthieu Jalibert to slot into 10 without much disruption.

Dupont is a magical player, and slowing him down is key to getting on top of France. The most effective way to try and nullify him is to control the gain-line.

Once he gets on the front foot that’s whenever he becomes extremely dangerous, and his dominance has a domino effect across the backline.

When Scotland beat France last year, they won enough of the collisions to get them on the back foot - so Ireland have to front up and their set-piece has to fire again.