Six Nations 2013: Talking points as France hold Ireland in Dublin
Six Nations 2013: James Thompson looks at the talking points as Ireland draw 13-13 with France in Dublin on Saturday
Heaslip grows into captain’s role
Before there Six Nations, there was some surprise when Ireland head coach Declan Kidney announced that Jamie Heaslip would be replacing legend Brian O’Driscoll as captain. With O’Driscoll coming to the end of his career it was perhaps the correct move as the Irish build towards the 2015 World Cup. However, Heaslip’s career hasn’t reached the heights it initially promised when he first came to prominence. Commentators and pundits have noted that he appears to have lost some of his pace and guile as he has bulked up and while this is reflective of the modern game, it has taken something away from Heaslip’s individual ability. His first Six Nations campaign as skipper has been mixed with a win over Wales, followed by disappointing losses against England and Scotland, but those results haven’t been attributed to just Heaslip. He hasn’t been helped by some insipid team performances, but against France, he looked like he was beginning to grow into his new role. He scored a try and was constantly on the front foot. Unfortunately, like the entire Ireland side, he began to tire in the second half as France fought back but it was an encouraging performance nonetheless.
End of an era for O’Driscoll
Towards the end of the second half, when France had levelled the scores, there was a sombre mood across the Aviva Stadium. While another disappointing result would have contributed to the atmosphere, it was perhaps due more to the fact that it could have been the last home international of O’Driscoll. He has been arguably the greatest centre of all time, the talisman of the Irish side for the past ten years, but injury and time appear to have caught up with him. Much like Ronan O’Gara, O’Driscoll is probably not going to be around for the 2015 World Cup, so blooding young talent like Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson is important if the side is to compete in two years’ time. Although he hasn’t confirmed his international retirement, he did concede that this Six Nations campaign could be his last so until a definitive statement is made rumours will persist. However, while O’Gara has been slowly fazed out of the side, O’Driscoll is still a vital member of the team. He was inspirational against Wales and while he hasn’t had the same attacking threat in the subsequent games, he remains the leader of the defensive line and makes Ireland extremely difficult to score against. With Kidney’s future also uncertain Ireland are going through a transitional stage and how they replace such a figure remains to be seen.
The future of the two coaches
Both Kidney and Phillipe Saint-Andre have faced a lot of rumour and scrutiny in recent weeks as their sides have failed to deliver on pre-Six Nations expectations. For Ireland, Kidney has come under huge criticism for failing to bring in new talent to the side and instead rely on old heads. When fly-half Jonny Sexton was injured, Kidney turned to Jackson who hadn’t even been capped and then seemingly ended the international career of the veteran O’Gara the following week. Having such a lack of experience can be beneficial, as England have proved, but Kidney has been reluctant to give those youngsters an opportunity. The Irish media have called for his tenure to end with Harlequins head coach Conor O’Shea the favourite to replace him. However, Kidney’s criticism hasn’t been as bad as that of Saint-Andre. His French side were installed as pre-tournament favourites but they have been truly awful so far. His insistence on selecting players out of position and his reliance on inconsistent players such as Freddie Michalak, who doesn’t even kick for his club side, has aided their demise. The French have a history of baffling decisions and in-fighting but the players don’t even seem to have the enthusiasm to muster a mutinous retaliation this time. After leading his team to three defeats and a draw, it is unlikely he will be in charge for too much longer but the French must install someone who has a clear, concise plan if they are to go on and win their first ever World Cup.
France stop the rot
While France didn’t win on Saturday evening, they did manage to register their first point in this year’s Six Nations. This campaign has been a complete
disaster for the French as they have chopped and changed their team, seemingly trying to select their best players rather than their best team. The fact that Wesley Fofana started the first two games on the wing rather than in his natural centre position denied the French of one of this season’s best players and his try against England put the coach’s selection policy to shame. France are generally at their most dangerous when they are written off but their side have looked utterly devoid of confidence and enthusiasm. In the first half, they were bullied by the Irish forwards who sensed they were there for the taking but it was the home side’s inability to finish the game off that let them back in. They took advantage of the Irish attack being extremely wasteful as Louis Picamoles scored after a period of sustained pressure but the despite ending their losing streak, it doesn’t really help France. With Scotland, who are just as inconsistent, visiting next weekend, the French need to win to have any chance of avoiding a very embarrassing wooden spoon.