Column: Cooke's Six Nations corner

Feb 9, 2023 16:46 By Michael Cooke
Column: Cooke's Six Nations corner
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Analysis - How Ireland can beat France by Michael Cooke

Ireland’s opening day victory over Wales was remarkable for many reasons but there’s no room for complacency just yet.

Ireland’s approach in ending a 10-year wait for victory over Wales in the Principality Stadium is highly commendable; however we must be cognisant of the poor-quality opposition Ireland faced.

A Welsh side which has won only three tests from 12 during 2022, including shock defeats at the hands of Italy and Georgia. A far tougher test awaits Ireland on Saturday when France arrive in the Aviva.


Fabien Galthie’s side are reigning champions, they’ve amassed 14 successive international victories. The French could yet be World Cup contenders, but that’s for another day.

A difficult assignment awaits but Ireland are well placed to handle it. The focus for those in green must be; a good start; excellence at both the ruck and the breakdown; attacking innovation and impressive impact off the bench.

Good start


Just two minutes had elapsed last Saturday when Caelan Doris scored the game’s opening try. This echoed the summer test series triumph over New Zealand. Ireland scoring their first try inside the first five minutes in each of the three tests.

The opening six minutes of the last meeting with France saw Ireland trail 10-nil. A daunting enough prospect in the cauldron of Stade de France, especially without your most important player in Jonathan Sexton.

Sexton’s availability this Saturday should impose a front foot start for those in green.


Excellence at the ruck and breakdown

In terms of tangible silverware; Joe Schmidt has been the most successful Irish head coach ever. Under Schmidt, Ireland demonstrated consistent excellence at the ruck. No coincidence then, Ireland won two six nations titles and a grand slam under his stewardship.

Andy Farrell appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Ireland enjoyed the highest level of ruck success in last year's six nations (96.4%) and were the only team to have an average ruck speed under three seconds (2.88). Such standards must be replicated on Saturday.


France conceded 18 penalties to Italy last weekend including seven out of a ruck. French defence coach Shaun Edwards will undoubtedly be doing his utmost to avoid a similar story against Ireland. Otherwise, Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris and company will have a field day.

Attacking innovation

Edwards will also look to refine France’s defensive line speed ahead of Saturday’s contest. The French defence is consistently solid, but Edwards knows any deficiencies in this area will be exploited to great extent.


Eddie Jones, Warren Gatland, Ian Foster and Jacques Nienaber have all faced the tactical conundrum of disrupting Ireland’s attack. None of them succeeded!

There’s a litany of microcosms to choose from but Mack Hansen’s try against Nienaber’s South Africa, reigning world champions no less.

Note the constant availability of support runners for the ball handler, along with the mesmerising speed of Ireland’s passing.

This has become a regular occurrence with Ireland and Edwards could have a few sleepless nights as a result.

Adaptability and the bench

Such an asset can prove beneficial to Ireland especially given France’s incredible physicality. The French scrum, including colossal figures like Uini Atonio and Paul Willemse, caused Ireland untold problems last year.

France’s physical superiority gives them a serious edge in the scrum but can be countered in general play by attacking innovation which gives Ireland a bit of hope.

The French starting pack is formidable in itself but then you look at the bench and you see another powerful player like Romain Taofifenua and it can be incredibly daunting.

Attacking reinforcements are not in short supply either, as evidenced by Matthieu Jalibert’s try-scoring impact off the bench against the Italians. Hence why Ireland’s replacements must step up to the plate when introduced.

To be fair; Ireland have shown great adaptability in recent games. Against Wales and Australia, Farrell’s men were minus the services of illustrious names including Captain Sexton, centurion Cian Healy and lion Tadhg Furlong, yet still emerged victorious.

France are a different proposition to both the Welsh and the Wallabies however. Ireland’s squad depth faces a different test on Saturday.

The general consensus is that whoever wins this game will win the Six Nations and that certainly appears to be the case.

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