A somewhat muted France won the arm wrestle at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon to leave Ireland still without a win after two rounds of the 2021 Six Nations.
There was improved discipline with a combined total of 14 penalties conceded, down from 22 in the last match, but an increase in handling/passing errors, from 33 to 46, meant the ball was in play for a total of 36 minutes compared to 40 minutes in the previous game. Ireland again completed the most rucks with the home team setting up a total of 110 to Frances 67 though this was also down from 245 previously.
Ireland (3) 13
TRY: Ronan Kelleher
CON: Ross Byrne
PEN: Billy Burns, Ross Byrne
France (10) 15
TRY: Charles Ollivon, Damian Penaud
CON: Matthieu Jalibert
PEN: Matthieu Jalibert
It was a nervy start from both sides. Ireland had a glimpse of a chance in the opening minutes after an Iain Henderson charge down inside the French 22 but the ball bounced France’s way and was cleared.
The remainder of the opening quarter was a kicking contest with neither side dominating. Both Matthieu Jalibert and Billy Burns missed their first kicks at goal by some distance but Burns finally got the scoreboard ticking over with a successful penalty on the 20th minute.
Ireland were given the chance to take command of the game minutes later when Bernard Le Roux was yellow carded for a sneaky trip on Keith Earls and it looked like they might just do that when James Lowe appeared to have forced his way over in the corner. Unfortunately it was disallowed for a foot in touch, after clever work by Gaël Fickou, and Ireland didn’t create another chance in the remainder of the game.
France didn’t create much either but when they did the inevitably came away with some points. Their first score came while they were still down to 14 men. A series of well timed passes, with Antoine Dupont to the fore, saw them break from deep for Charles Ollivon to cross unopposed.
Jailbert added the extras to give France a 3 – 7 lead and ten minutes later the French out-half stepped up to add another three, from a penalty, to give the visitors a 3 – 10 lead as the teams changed ends.
Ireland lost Burns, to a head injury, shortly after the restart but the Ulster player had largely been cut out of the game by his own players who opted to largely bypass him in attack or use Lowe’s left boot for most of the kicking duties. The arrival of Ross Byrne did see Ireland move the ball a bit more but it was slow and predictable and when a second French charge ended with Damian Penaud crossing in the corner for an uncovered try, on the 54th minute, it looked like game over with France 3 – 15 to the good.
We were teased with the possibility of a barnstorming finish minutes later when replacement hooker, Ronan Kelleher, was the recipient of a fortunate bounce to sprint home, from 30 yards, after a misfiring French lineout. Byrne added the extras to take the score to 10 – 15 and it was game on with 24 minutes remaining.
Unfortunately it was an incredibly low risk final 20 from both sides who probably made more ground when defending. Byrne did knock over a 40 meter penalty to make it a 2 point game on the 64th minute, after good work by Will Connors, but the young French side, who had just over half the caps of their Irish opponents, coped reasonably comfortably with anything Ireland came up with.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Billy Burns, Jamison Gibson Park, Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson (C), Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander. Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Ed Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Ultan Dillane, Will Connors, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Jordan Larmour.
FRANCE: Brice Dulin, Damian Penaud, Arthur Vincent, Gaël Fickou, Gabin Villière, Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont, Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Grégory Alldritt. Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Hassane Kolingar, Uini Atonio, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas.
I do feel Ireland did try and play a different game here. There was certainly a lot less of the gratuitous physical contact than there was in the Welsh game but the smash, recycle, reload and repeat is so ingrained that it’s going to take them a while to develop alternative styles and it appeared they weren’t comfortable with Burns at out half. The Ulster player never really settled into the game.
I do hope that they persevere with Burns against Italy. With a bit of luck Jacob Stockdale will have sufficiently recovered from his knee injury as he’s one of the few players that can see space and has the confidence to exploit it.