O'Driscoll: Schmidt Will Switch Up Team Throughout Six Nations
- Author: Stacy Allen Feb 03, 2019,
Feb 03, 2019, 2:26
The contrast from the performance Ireland produced to beat New Zealand in November was starkly laid bare by the white-shirted players, who swarmed around their opponents at every opportunity and starved them of the time and space they need to execute their attacking plays.
The Kiwi coach hinted there would be wholesale changes for the match against the Azzurri in a bid to replicate World Cup conditions.
The world's second-best ranked side are targeting a fourth Six Nations title in six seasons - a feat last achieved by France over a decade ago - and were given added motivation this week when England's defence coach John Mitchell said the hosts would try to "bore" them into submission.
Uncapped teen Romain Ntamack has gotten the nod over Mathieu Bastareaud, who captained France previous year, as Les Bleus get set for their Six Nations opener Friday against Wales.
Losing second-rows Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne for the start of the campaign is a blow, but James Ryan and Devin Toner are a formidable pairing.
It all leaves World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, the former England captain, trying to steer a hard course through the competing interests.
"I don't think that was necessarily part of a plan, but it certainly put Keith out of the game, and he was our most experienced back-3 player".
"I think we'll see a lot about them next week and I've no doubt that we'll respond".
Castle wasn't glossing over the challenges, however, following up that big picture with a sobering summary of the further work - diplomatic and economic - needed to convince 12 nations traditionally divided along north vs south and rich vs poor lines that their futures would be better together.
"They will be physical, but they will also play with a lot of width and speed".
One place there will certainly be a chilling atmosphere is Dublin's fair city as the fiercest Six Nations rivals of recent years, defending champions Ireland and England go toe-to-toe in a showdown which could decide the final destination of the silverware from Round 1.
Former Scotland scrum-half Lawson backed his "Celtic cousins" Ireland to get the job done and Zebo agreed wholeheartedly with him.
"It was great that he scored two tries, but I'm more disappointed with France's second try when he stepped in off his wing".
The defeat for Ireland means they will be unable to usurp the All Blacks as the world's top ranked side during the Six Nations having needed a Grand Slam prior to the tournament to jump to first in the rankings. But I really enjoyed playing with him and who knows?