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HomeSportsSix Nations Tournament 2022: Ireland, a rugby that ruffles

Six Nations Tournament 2022: Ireland, a rugby that ruffles

I am a team with a polished game, which impresses opponents and observers. I have largely renewed my workforce in recent years at the instigation of a new technical staff, which has dusted off my game. And I dominated the All Blacks in the fall. I am… France? If the XV of France, Fabien Galthié version, ticks all the boxes of the description, it is also the case of the team which comes to face it at the Stade de France, Saturday February 12 (5:45 p.m.), for the second day of the Six Nations Tournament: Ireland.

At the opening of the competition, Sunday February 6, the Blues defeated a valiant but limited Italy (37-10), signing a solid entry, if not to enthuse. The day before, in Dublin, the XV of Clover impressed against the supporters of the Welsh trophy. Large winners (29-7), the partners of the metronome Jonathan Sexton recited their rugby. Monopolizing the ball, multiplying the assaults to erode the Welsh rock, the players of the green Erin offered a performance bordering on perfection – only lifting their foot five minutes from the end, once the offensive bonus point had been acquired (they then leading 29-0).

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Clash between the two teams in the best shape of the moment, Saturday’s meeting looks like a final before the hour. “We are not taking this match as a final, nuance the French second-line Cameron Woki, but as a game that we have to win to achieve our goal of winning the tournament. » And the Blues shamelessly give up the label of favorites to the Irish, who “richly deserve it”, provides fly half Romain Ntamack. Undefeated for a year, nine games, and a narrow defeat on their land against… France (13-15), the players trained by the Englishman Andy Farrell (father, moreover, of the usual captain of the XV of England, Owen Farrell) landed in France overflowing with ambition.

The Blues, “the ultimate test” for Ireland

For Andy Farrell, facing the Blues represents “the ultimate test” for his young squad. Because for two years, the men in green have been breaking their teeth on the tough partners of Antoine Dupont.

In the fall of 2020 – the meeting had been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic – the French won (35-27), signing ” the start of the story “ of the XV of France. In the running, then, to win the Tournament, Farrell and his men remember that Halloween night. “We learned many lessons about ourselves during this evening in Paris, relates the English technician. It was a great match, on the main stage, we could have won the Tournament and we didn’t secure. » Since then, he says, [son] group has grown, and aspires to prove it on Saturday on the Lyon lawn.

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In Ireland, the XV of Clubs is king. Unlike France or England, where club rugby is omnipresent, and obliges the federations to come to terms with it, the Irish model “is completely focused on the development of the national team”, exposes sports historian Liam O’Callaghan, who teaches at Hope University in Liverpool. “At the top of the pyramid, the federation [Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU] control everything. » If the country has four professional clubs – those of the four provinces of the island, Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster -, these depend on the IRFU, can only recruit with its agreement, and the playing time of international players is calculated with precision. Enough to give free rein to his coach.

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Appointed as the head of the selection after the 2019 World Cup, Andy Farrell was the assistant in charge of defense under the orders of his predecessor, Joe Schmidt. “We will evolve our attack as we go, and it will probably be a long process,” he warned when he took office. No question of denying the game “physical and abrasive” having made the success of the team (winner of a Grand Slam in 2018), “but we have players who are technically gifted, intelligent and have a lot more to offer.” Two years later, his team is reaping the fruits of this labor.

A hair-raising game

“This team has not changed much, they are still very strong on the bases, in conquest, on the balls carried, exposes second-line tricolor Cameron Woki. But we still feel more confidence in their game, which is smoother, it’s nice to see. »

Like the rest of the rugby planet, the Blues were blown away by the Irish gust in the fall of 2021. “Their match against the All Blacks had us enormously… shocked”, confirms Romain Ntamack. Victorious over the New Zealanders (29-20) a week before France in turn imposed their tempo on players from the southern hemisphere (40-25), the Irish “surprised us with their physical qualities and the game they had offered that day”, relates the Toulouse opening half. Like its reliefs, the team deploys a hair-raising game; the Welsh, martyred in Dublin on Saturday, can testify to this.

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If Ireland has forged over the years the reputation of a solid, rigorous and rough team to face, it does not come down to more than that. Coach of the All Blacks buried stone by stone by the Irish XV, Ian Foster noted in the fall “an expansion of their ambition as to what they want to do with the ball in hand”. An Irish team “more comfortable in the offensive game, aware of the threats it possesses, and which forces you to keep your eyes open all the time”.

However, Ireland is not going “play a playstation rugby” at the Stade de France, warns Irish second-line James Ryan. Captain against the Blues – due to the surprise absence of Jonathan Sexton, injured –, Ryan sees the progress of his team in the game, but insists on its fundamentals. “We want to play according to who we face, not deploy the game just for fun. » No champagne rugby in perspective, therefore, but a sharp Clover XV, which promises “a good war”, smiled Cameron Woki. The team that emerges victorious will take a big step towards victory in the Tournament.

The XV of Ireland deprived of its captain Johnny Sexton

The XV of Clover will have to do without its totem. Two days before facing the French rugby team in Saint-Denis, for the second match of the Six Nations Tournament, Ireland announced the withdrawal of its emblematic captain, Jonathan “Johnny” Sexton. Leinster fly-half injured hamstring in training “model of longevity, one of the best openers in the history of international rugby”, according to his tricolor opponent, Romain Ntamack, will be replaced by Joey Carbery.

Having prepared for the meeting thinking of facing the 36-year-old veteran with 102 selections, the Blues will also have to adapt. “This Irish team is very structured, with a set game plan, we imagine that they will stay on the same background despite the absence of Johnny Sexton”, said Fabien Galthié.

2022 Six Nations Tournament Schedule

  • Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 February

Ireland – Wales (Saturday, 3.15 p.m.), Scotland – England (Saturday, 5.45 p.m.), France – Italy (Sunday, 4 p.m.).

  • Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 February

Wales – Scotland (Saturday, 3:15 p.m.), France – Ireland (Saturday, 5.45 p.m.), Italy – England (Sunday, 4 p.m.).

  • Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 February

Scotland – France (Saturday, 3.15 p.m.), England – Wales (Saturday, 5.45 p.m.), Ireland – Italy (Sunday, 4 p.m.).

  • Friday 11 and Saturday 12 March

Wales – France (Friday, 9 p.m.), Italy – Scotland (Saturday, 3:15 p.m.), England – Ireland (Saturday, 5:45 p.m.).

Wales – Italy (3:15 p.m.), Ireland – Scotland (5:45 p.m.), France – England (9 p.m.).

France-Ireland, Saturday February 12, 5:45 p.m. at the Stade de France (France 2). To follow live commented on Lemonde.fr

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