IRELAND AND FRANCE – OMINOUS SIGNS HEADING INTO WORLD CUP

There is very  good reason why Ireland are ranked number one and France number two in the World international rugby rankings.

Like a fine wine Johnny Sexton just keeps getting better with age.

The form of both last weekend in the Six Nations competition illustrated how good they are and how difficult it will be for others, including the number three ranked All Blacks to beat them at the upcoming World Cup in France.

Ireland have never made it past the quarter finals stage of any previous World Cup but judging by their current form they are in with a very real chance of taking out the trophy.

Saturday’s 22-7 win over Scotland was pretty special and showed just how much depth and how much resilience the Irish have. Scotland are a good side and they were playing at home and in the first half looked capable of an upset.

However in the second half, two quick converted tries put the result beyond doubt and what was more notable was that Ireland had to overcome significant injuries during the match including having flanker Josh  van der Flier throwing the ball into lineouts because their two hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher went off injured. They were also forced to play a specialist prop Cian Healy at hooker. The 35 year-old, playing his 122nd test, hadn’t played hooker since his schooldays but showed his versatility by actually strengthening Ireland’s scrum.

Star number eight Caelan Doris hobbled off injured, lock Ian Henderson had his arm in a cast post-game and centre Garry Ringrose was stretchered off.

Mack Hansen

Mack Hansen and James Lowe two players that Australia and NZ let go and are now an integral part of the Irish team.

James Lowe

Ireland coach Andy Farrell described his team’s situation during the match as “Organised chaos” and in reality the coach couldn’t have planned it better learning to cope with the adversity World Cups often throw at teams.

Ireland had already shown that by their outstanding series win against the All Blacks in New Zealand last season, a result which would have given them huge confidence and belief in that fact they can beat the other top teams.

On top of that they have a very settled test side and the key ingredient of depth complimented by one of the best coaches in the World in Farrell.

The way they applied blow torch pressure to Scotland was impressive, wave after wave of attacks eventually breaking down the Scottish defence and each player seems to instinctively know their job and trust that when they throw a pass someone will be there to catch it. The tight forwards not only do their core set-piece well but are also weapons with ball in hand and in defence.

In first-five Jonathan Sexton they have the best first-five in the world even at 37 years of age he’s still on top of his game. Ireland need to beat England on Sunday to be crowned champions and achieve a coveted Grand Slam of victories in what has now become the best test rugby competition in the world.

Then there is France who Ireland have already beaten this year, they were hugely impressive in demolishing a terrible England side 53-10 at Twickenham, a result and performance which stunned disappointed England supporters and did nothing to enhance new head coach Steve Borthwick’s reputation. Controversial English rugby correspondent Stephen Jones was still blaming sacked coach Eddie Jones for England’s woes. Pathetic Jones as always.

France were magnificent, leading 27-3 at halftime and continuing the demolition in the second half winning that 26-7.

Their finishing in greasy slippery conditions was sublime and a key stat was the 11 off-loads by France compared to England’s three.

Stunned !!

There were brilliant tries, the early one to Thomas Ramos from inside their own half, spectacular in its execution. Ramos is a strike weapon and a superb goal-kicker and the performance of France captain and halfback Antoine Dupont was one of the best I’ve seen at this level for a long time. His tactical nouse, precise kicking game and his constant ability to snipe from the base had England’s defence back-pedalling most of the match.

Halfback is an area the All Blacks can utilise much more than they do by having someone, such as Brad Weber, who runs and actually challenges the defence as can Aaron Smith on his day.

Antoine Dupont one of the best 9's and could be the best after the RWC.

Mid-fielder Jonathan Dante was a dominating influence with his power-house running and defence and winger Damian Penaud is another lethal attacking weapon.

In the forwards, lock Thibaud Flament was a star with with his off-loading game as well as scoring two fine tries.

Make no mistake if France can handle the huge pressure of playing at home, they have every chance of finally winning their first World Cup having been beaten in three previous finals, two of those by the All Blacks. Coach Fabian Galthie has got his side playing with a sense of freedom and flare we used to associate with French teams from old but went missing for several years. Well now it’s back and it’s great to watch.

The brand of rugby played by both France and Ireland is exhilarating to watch and both sides are benefitting from a consistency of selection the All Blacks and Wallabies have not had.

Thomas Ramos - deadly accurate with the boot and on attack.

Shout out to referee in the France v England game Ben O’Keeffe, one of our recent guests on AbsolutelyFamous from my old home town of Blenheim in New Zealand.  He did an excellent job and barring injury should be selected to referee this year’s World Cup.

 

Ben O'Keefe

Throughout England versus France at Twickenham in round four of the Six Nations, we were treated to a fine Ben O’Keefe French display, with the Kiwi referee talking to both teams in their native tongue.

While current form and results certainly don’t guarantee World Cup success, the closeness of the top four ranked teams in order, Ireland (91.33), France (89.38), New Zealand (88.98) and South Africa (88.97) is a true reflection and points to one of the closest contested World Cup in rugby history.

It’s worth noting that two of the four top ranked teams cannot make the semifinals. Only world rugby could come up with a draw like that.

Good to see All Blacks coach Ian Foster is in the UK to watch Six Nations matches. He’ll already know what his team is up against and he’ll also know the All Blacks have improve significantly on what they produced last year to win the World Cup for a fourth time.

Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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