Ronan O’Gara: Someone is getting ‘un grand claque’ in Paris

Ronan O’Gara: Someone is getting ‘un grand claque’ in Paris

Given the manner of some recent losses for La Rochelle, there’s a French phrase I’ve become quite partial to. If we were above in Bruff, un grand claque might be translated as a fair oul slap. Wherever you are from, it’s certainly a big blow.

In the context of Saturday’s meeting of France and Ireland at the Stade de France, one might assume it refers to the haymaker for Ireland in losing Johnny Sexton. In this context, though, it best describes the reaction in France if Ireland leave Paris with the victory.

There are some ground rules to establish before we proceed. France are a little too busy establishing themselves as the best bet for the 2023 World Cup, which they host, to be over-perturbed who is at ten for Ireland. While there is obvious respect for Johnny Sexton in France, he is, to a large extent, another Irish player. Fabien Galthie would have his men going after the Irish ten whether his name is Sexton or Carbery, probably more so in the case of the Leinster veteran.

Essentially, France have enough to be getting on with. Ireland is just this Saturday’s obstacle. Antoine Dupont, between his cover shoots for GQ magazine which he’s been getting the bird over, has assumed the mantle of best player in the world, Romain Ntamack is becoming a real ten, France’s first in a while, but he’s still got work to do. Bordeaux’s Yoram Moefana is making his Six Nations debut and will be more worried about that than Ireland. 

Antoine Dupont on the cover of GQ magazine

Gabin Viliere knows that Teddy Thomas is waiting in the long grass, Melvyn Jaminet knows Brice Dulin is doing likewise. Damien Penaud is on his way to becoming one of the best players in the world – I am not sure how aware Irish people are of that fact, but he is going to cause problems on Saturday. The point is, Johnny Sexton’s hamstring is not the straw stirring people’s conversations in the capital’s arrondissments.

What those discussions should be focusing on is their players’ discipline. It is, and mark the statement, the single biggest threat to France winning the World Cup next year.

Discipline is a behavioural cornerstone, not an easy soundbite. If you are reffed for thirty weeks of the season by Top 14 officials and expect to transition seamlessly into the test arena with officials who care less about the home crowd, you are living in a dream world. Ireland operated on a penalty-free plateau for 50 minutes last Saturday against Wales. Is that something France is capable of?

I hope so much we have a dry ball to play with at the Stade de France. Then there are no outs, no excuses. When the conditions are unfavourable, you never get to take away as much from the fixture as you’d like. Things like ‘ah it was very hard to play’ are too easy to reach for. For me, it’s the best outdoor stadium in the world, but with La Marseillaise before and a dry ball, there’s much to salivate over. Right now if you selected the best five players in the northern hemisphere, Dupont, Furlong and Andrew Porter are there for me. Porter is turning into a monster, one who is incredibly fit and athletic for a prop.

Donal Lenihan hit the nail on the head on the Irish Examiner podcast this week – it’s so much about the set-piece on Saturday. You’ve William Servat going up against John Fogarty, that’s old Toulouse v old Leinster hookers, with a clatter of players from both sides involved on the day. Everyone is talking about Ireland’s attack and how Joe Carbery can do, but the front fives on both sides are critical.

Atonio is a good scrummager, Marchand is a scrummaging hooker and Baille is a big unit, combined, they must be close to 400 kgs in that French front row.

Ireland had almost 1,000m in carries last Saturday but the key takeaway was the emphasis they put on discipline, compared to the French. Poles apart. Ireland didn’t concede a penalty in a Six Nations test match last Saturday until almost the 50th minute – if they maintain a similar penalty ratio over the first 70 mins in Paris, you have your winners.

However, given what came afterwards at Murrayfield and the Stade de France, the reaction to Ireland might have been a small bit over-egged. Ireland were very good for fifty minutes but the tempo dipped conspicuously thereafter. I’d be surprised if the review didn’t involve a discussion on the fact that four tries was a modest enough return against a woefully poor Welsh side.

Leaving aside the summer tour to New Zealand, France away is the best test of Ireland’s mettle in 2022. But for the enforced change at ten, Andy Farrell has gone with his f

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