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Ireland will be looking to make it three wins on the bounce when they welcome Jacques Brunel’s France to the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
After the disappointing opening round defeat to England in Dublin, Joe Schmidt’s side have got their campaign back on track thanks to away wins over Scotland and Italy.
In terms of performance, Ireland have yet to hit the heights which they reached so remarkably in 2018. However, if we take a look at some of the stats surrounding this side, there is cause for optimism and confidence that Ireland will continue to improve as the championship goes on.
Burgeoning Half-Back Partnership
First of all, let’s take a look at Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. Like any half-back partnership, at any level of the game, the performance of this key duo is essential to the success of any team. Often regarded as one of the best nine and 10 partnerships in the world, the pair haven’t been at their best in the Six Nations thus far.
Murray only returned from a troublesome neck injury when he lined out for Munster at the end of November. With regards to Sexton, the World Player of the Year has played little rugby since he started against Murray and Munster in Leinster’s PRO14 defeat at Thomond Park over the festive period.
So far in the 2018/19 campaign, Murray and Sexton have only been on the pitch together for 172 minutes this season; 77 minutes against England, 24 minutes against Scotland and 71 minutes against Italy.
Due to Murray’s injury in the first half of the season, they didn’t have an opportunity to play together during the November Internationals.
Not only are both players coming up to speed in terms of their respective game-time this season, but they are still re-kindling their partnership.
The longer these two play together, the better they will perform and ultimately, the better Ireland’s chances will be. With both players expected to be fit for Sunday’s visit of France, we should see an improved showing from these world-class players.
In the three games so far, Ireland’s attacking showing hasn’t been at its fluid and devastating best that we saw this time last year and at times during the November Internationals.
However, Ireland are doing a lot right which suggests that the functionality around their attack and their ability to build phases is still effective.
- Despite these criticisms, Ireland have scored nine tries across the three games so far and this is the second highest among the competing teams in this competition.
- Ireland also have the highest amount of carries of any other team on 466. This proves that the work rate among the players is still incredibly high and that Schmidt’s side hold possession for long periods – a key aspect of their gameplan which is to ultimately wear down teams.
- Ireland have also beaten the most defenders in the championship with 90. Again this proves that Ireland are getting over the gain line but as we saw in Rome, it’s the final pass or correct option which is not being executed – this will improve as the Irish players continue to play more with one another.
After conceding four tries to England, Ireland’s defence has improved but it must be said that many of their try concessions have come from unforced errors rather than a failure in their defensive systems.
For example, two of England’s four tries were avoidable from an Irish perspective – Sexton throwing an intercept pass and Jacob Stockdale failing to ground the ball in his own try area.
Scotland only scored one try against Ireland and again, that came from an unforced error when Finn Russell picked off a Joey Carbery pass.
The numbers back this up, too.
- Ireland have the second lowest number of missed tackles among the competing teams in the Six Nations with 57 to their name. The highest is 84.
- Ireland’s discipline is also excellent which is a pre-requisite with a Joe Schmidt team. Ireland have only conceded 19 penalties across 240 minutes of Six Nations rugby, an average of 6.3 penalties per game.
This helps Ireland not to cough up easy field position to their opponents or give them opportunities to score points through shots at goal and from lineout setpiece.
For Ireland, a lot of the good work they have done throughout this campaign was evident in their incredibly successful 2018. What they will be looking for in their upcoming clash against France is to build on that good work by producing a more cohesive and clincial performance.