Iain Henderson addresses Ireland's on-field quietness against France 7 months ago

Iain Henderson addresses Ireland's on-field quietness against France

What we would've given for a Bundee Aki bellow, or two.

At times, during Ireland's 15-13 defeat to France, the silence was eerie. It was uncomfortably eerie.

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Ireland went into their must-win Six Nations clash with France without the services of Johnny Sexton, Jacob Stockdale, Conor Murray, James Ryan and Peter O'Mahony. Even the most optimistic of Irish supporters admitted their side was up against it.

Even the anthems were strangely muted. Someone took the decision to play the Irish anthems with recordings of supporters singing along, but all it did was raise a quizzical eyebrow from a couple of Irish players. Very few belted out either anthem. It's hard to get tizzy-ed up with a sold-out stadium cheering you on, but this was a very low-key start to proceedings.

Andy Farrell's side needed to start fast and show France they were still fighting for this Six Nations championship. Instead, as they did against Wales, they were dragged into an arm-wrestle and were content to kick possession after possession back to France.

Mathieu Jalibert and Billy Burns had poor penalty misses before Burns finally got the scoreboard ticking over, after 21 minutes. For the whole of that period, the only time the Irish players raised their voices was when Rhys Ruddock won his side a penalty and a French lineout was disrupted.

For much of the first half, all you could hear were the French players shouting out instructions and roaring each other on. From an Irish perspective, James Lowe was organising from the left wing.

Ireland's big chance to make a statement arrived when Bernard La Roux was sin-binned. Ireland thought they were over the line, 60 seconds later, but Lowe's boot grazed the sideline and a try was ruled out.

France were let off the hook and responded by blitzing their hosts with a stunning attacking sweep that ended up with Charles Ollivon, their captain, cruising over for the game's opening try. The screams and roars told you they felt Ireland were in trouble. As for Ireland, their shoulders sagged and they looked beaten.

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Following the game, Ireland captain Iain Henderson addressed a question about on-field quietness. He commented:

"Amongst the pack, there's definitely a lot of micro-chat going on.

"We like to keep ourselves cool and don't like to be firing ourselves up too much. When you watch the game back, you'll see a lot of small discussions going on amongst each other, and I can tell you the 9s are definitely bossing us about.

"The reason you'll hear the lads the back-field cover more is they're chasing guys and they're a lot more spread out. But for the guys in close, there definitely is chatter.

"Maybe that's something, when we go back and review it, that we have to go back and fix, but the 9s and 10s and the amount of direction they are giving the guys around the pitch is good."

Most pundits, fans and writers called this game for France before Andy Farrell even named his team. The minute the team was named, anyone left pining for Ireland would have been tempted to jump ship.

France threatened to put the game to bed early in the second half but Ireland held on until Brice Dulin and Damien Penaud combined and the winger scored in the corner. It took a Ronan Kelleher try, out of nothing, to keep the contest alive.

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In the end, though, Ireland looked out of ideas and drained of both life and belief.
"We're definitely seeing progress, everyone is striving for it, everyone is working really hard," Henderson said.

"There's a huge amount of frustration. We're definitely seeing guys put in the time, everyone is trying their best to produce this progress on the pitch but it's that last couple of inches, that last week bit that we just need to push over the line.

"Speaking in terms of rugby, you get up into the opposition 22 and it's those last couple of metres that are actually extremely difficult to get. We're working hard and no one is going to give up, whether it's our coaching staff or players, we will continually push to get this.

"We've had two games in these last couple of weeks and both of them I think could very, very much have gone the other way and we'd be sitting here with a completely different mentality.

"So we're proud of the work the guys have been putting in and I'm looking forward to working together going forward to see that hard work coming together."

There is a break of a week before the squad reassembles ahead of the away trip to Italy.

Ireland should have too much for the Italians but face Scotland (away) and England (home) after that and will need to get their act together if they are to avoid a worst championship finish since 2013.

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Back then Ireland finished fifth and that was enough for the IRFU to replace Declan Kidney with Joe Schmidt.

Andy Farrell will be hoping that it never gets to the stage where he is looking over his shoulder, with Leinster providing the prime candidates to step in.


 

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