August 14, 2022

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Andy Farrell has built his side on home soil. The last seven of their nine...

Andy Farrell has built his side on home soil. The last seven of their nine wins in a row have come at the Aviva Stadium and, in the comfort of their own abode, they’ve developed into a fearsome unit.
hey’ve beaten England, Japan, New Zealand, Argentina and now Wales on Lansdowne Road, now it’s time to take the show on the road.

France were the last team to win in Dublin, so it’s fitting that the all-court game that Farrell and his coaches have developed will get its toughest road test in Saint Denis.
It is the venue where their World Cup fate will be sealed in 18 months’ time.

Whether it’s their pool games against South Africa and Scotland or the quarter-final, semi-final or final; the Stade de France will be where Ireland’s story is written.
Even during France’s leanest decade, the venue has never been a particular welcoming one for Irish teams.
Joe Schmidt’s side’s two wins there go right to the top of the Kiwi’s highlights reel, before that you have to go back to 2000 and Brian O’Driscoll’s hat-trick.
On Halloween night, 2020, Ireland went to Paris with a Championship up for grabs and wilted.
Both Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell referenced that loss last week in the build-up to their win over Wales and you get the sense they want to make a statement next Saturday.
Wanting to and actually making the statement are very different things.
Like New Zealand in November, Wales couldn’t cope with the pace, variation and power of Ireland’s attacking play.
Thus far, the Irish front-row have been flat-track bullies; dominating collisions with glee while holding up their end of the bargain at scrum-time.
On Saturday, they’ll meet what looks like their match in Cyrille Baille, Julian Marchand and Uini Atonio who have the scrummaging power of Paul Willemse behind them.
The question is whether Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong can exert the level of influence they have done in open play when they have to go toe-to-toe with a collection of forwards who can match their power?
Certainly, they’ll have some assistance.
James Ryan was back to his best on Saturday, while Tadhg Beirne was excellent.
They don’t attract the same headlines as ‘The Bash Brothers’ up front, but the back-row of Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan are almost as impressive.
Picking eight footballing forwards is a statement from Farrell, even if Ryan still has a little room for improvement when it comes to his passing game.
Adding Iain Henderson to his bench options will help, but one concern over this Ireland squad is the drop-off when it comes to their front-row reserves.
Cian Healy is vastly experienced, but he’s not the force of old. Dan Sheehan is the real deal, but it’s still a step-up. Finlay Bealham is a good operator, but can he hold his own against one of the elite scrummaging teams like France or South Africa?
Lightning quick ball is at the heart of what Ireland do well. 
On Saturday, 71.4 per cent of the ball Jamison Gibson-Park received was produced in less than three seconds. That allows the Leinster scrum-half to move the ball quickly and stops the defence from setting.
A more powerful French team will target the ball-carrier and attack the ruck.
Again, if they’re successful, it will force Ireland to find another way.
The team and its bench are designed to build and protect a lead, so if France take the lead next weekend Ireland may have to show they can chase a game. 
These are the unanswered questions hanging over this team.
Tick the boxes, and they’ll be heading toward a Grand Slam.
Losing wouldn’t be a disaster, but this team will be out to make a statement.
They’ve come a long way in 12 months.
A year ago, the coach was under real pressure and the team were struggling to put it all together. The endeavour was never in question, but their execution was often off and the sight of backline moves ending in a player being run into touch became a signature of the side’s lack of attacking direction.
Now, they are a sight to behold; all clarity and purpose.
It’s a joy to watch, a tonic after years of being told that the margins are too high and the time is too tight to create an effective and exciting attacking game.
Even in difficult conditions on Saturday, they played with attacking intent and trusted their skills. Now, they are a walking, talking box of tricks; a team who can beat you up while reserving the right to pass you off the pitch. It’s total rugby and it’s easy on the eye.
Farrell is making bold calls and they’re coming off.
Mack Hansen’s Connacht form has been exceptional and rather than make him bide his time the coach has promoted him straight into the team. The Aussie didn’t let him down.
He’s managed to relegate senior players to bench roles while keeping them happy, he’s rejuvenated Garry Ringrose and tapped into Bundee Aki’s passing game.
Still, there’s a comfort in doing it in front of a full-house at home. Next weekend, the blue flags will be waving and a rejuvenated French crowd will arrive in the northern Parisian suburbs expecting a performance.
The two teams that beat New Zealand last November believe they’re on the right road and the evidence is that they’re the best sides in the tournament.
Ireland want to be the best, their stated aim is to win this tournament.
So, they must prove it at the Stade de France.
If they can take their show on the road and wow a Parisian crowd, then there’ll be no doubts about their title credentials.

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