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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Steadman: We’ve Got To Meet France Head On

Steadman: We’ve Got To Meet France Head On

Buoyed by what he has seen on the training pitch this week, defence coach Graham Steadman is confident that Ireland can spring one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history on Friday night by cutting short France’s quarter-final bid.

Following their 87-10 demolition of Namibia last weekend, the World Cup hosts are heavily favoured to make it two wins on the trot and edge ahead of Ireland in Pool D’s three-team scramble for the two quarter-final berths available.

Historically, Ireland have struggled in Paris and 2000’s Brian O’Driscoll-inspired success remains Ireland’s only victory in the French capital since 1972. Add in the fact that France have won the sides’ last five meetings and that they have scored 35 points or more on Ireland’s last three visits to the Stade de France, and you get a taste of just how big a task O’Driscoll and his team-mates are facing.

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However, there were signs of encouragement in last weekend’s 14-10 defeat of Georgia in Bordeaux, particularly defensively, and Steadman reckons that if Ireland can prevent France from gaining a possessional platform up front, they can use their quality out wide to hurt the home side.

“France will obviously be more expansive in their play than Georgia. Georgia showed very little in terms of a wide threat. But first France have got to create a platform if they want to move ball and we have to meet them head on there. Let’s not forget that we have some quality backs and if the guys replicate the way they’ve trained this week then there could be – and I’m not being over confident here – a real surprise on the cards,” Steadman said.

“The guys can take a lot of pride from the defensive composure they showed in the last 10 minutes against Georgia. That will stand us in good stead when we play France. The guys definitely want to put one or two wrongs right tomorrow.”

Ireland have conceded three tries in their two Pool D games so far, and although the opposition were two of world rugby’s lesser teams, it is still something which Steadman believes can give the men in green encouragement for Friday’s battle.

“If you look at the tries we’ve conceded, one was from an unfortunate drop out where we were caught out of shape on the fringes of John (Hayes) and Marcus (Horan), and the Namibians exploited that well.

“The other was a speculative kick down our right touchline, they showed a little more urgency and they scored off the back of their inside centre. Then you’ve got the right centre popping up off a pass from midfield which they (Georgia) have intercepted and run 70-80 metres.

“So the opposition are not creating too much in terms of general phase attack against us, because we are very well organised, disciplined and we showed great resolve against Georgia in those last few minutes to come up with the win,” he explained.

Adding that the team are “more than capable of closing France out”, the former Great Britain rugby league international agreed that the first 20 minutes will be crucial on Friday – if Ireland can keep the crowd and their long-haired hero Sebastien Chabal quiet during the opening stages, they can start causing some problems of their own for the French defence.

“I think Chabal’s biggest threat is coming off the bench and fresh into the last quarter of a match. The fact that he’s starting on Friday means we’ll have to make first impressions count against him, stop him from getting a head of steam and stop the crowd getting behind him because you can see he is a firm favourite with the French crowd for obvious reasons,” he said.

“If we can silence the crowd, it means we’re doing a good job, so I’d like to think the emerald green of Ireland will be cheering us because of the fact we’re putting in big defensive shots on him. It’s not all about Chabal but he plays a big part in what they do.”