I believe that Ireland can win in Paris, but the question is: Do they? France have won eleven of the previous twelve games against Ireland in Paris and they average 34 points at home in the Six Nations against Ireland. It is normally a home banker. But Ireland has to win to stay in Six Nations contention and that may just give them an edge.
Captain Paul O’Connell said in the week: “Against France away from home you need to start well. It’s frustrating that I haven’t beaten France in Paris, but we have a team that can do it.” Stay with that last thought.
Crucially Ireland now has a scrummage that can do it. Time and again in living memory they have gone to the French capital and had their front row beaten like steak tartare. The French have puffed out their chests, thrived on the macho superiority and started playing for fun. When that happens, it is mighty hard to survive, as we found out in the World Cup final.
But this Ireland side can win, they are a good side, with a good balance and an experienced forward pack. The front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross seems to improve with every game and I don’t expect them to get minced up like the last Ireland scrum to arrive in Paris. This is Ireland’s best front row for a long time.
Two years ago Ireland’s front row consisted of a much rawer Healy (who was yellow carded), Jerry Flannery (lucky not to be sent off) and John Hayes (past his best). France had Nicolas Mas, William Servat and Thomas Domingo. Formidable.
Going into this match the new French coach has made four changes to his pack. It is an unexpected move because scrummaging combinations take time to get right. Dimitri Szarzewski is also not as good a scrummaging hooker as Servat. Ireland has a real opportunity to attack France’s point of traditional strength and if they can get some sort of foothold in the scrum, then anything is possible.
France are also missing Dimitri Yachvili, their petit general, for this game. The combination of all the changes and France’s opening victory might just take some edge off their game. Ireland’s provinces have learned to win in France. It is time the national team learned to do the same. But whatever the outcome, it will be worth watching.
I expect the other two games to go more to form. I was very impressed with Wales in their opening match. They are now my favourites to win the Six Nations. George North and Jonathan Davies had big games and Wales deserved their win against Ireland.
I am glad Stephen Ferris was exonerated by the disciplinary panel this week because if that was a spear tackle we wouldn’t have many players left on the pitch. It was a harsh way for Ireland to lose, but the better team won. Wales’s back play was exceptional.
England should win in Rome despite the move to the new venue and the near 75,000 capacity crowd. We played Italy at the San Siro before a crowd of 80,000 a few years ago. It was an inexperienced All Blacks side and Italy put a lot of pressure on our set piece. But a crowd that size can be motivational both ways. I expect England’s big players to relish the occasion and come up with a couple of winning moments.