It was a disappointing end to the Six Nations for Ireland after setting themselves up for a second-half showdown against France in Paris.
Subsequently, Ireland lost their way and were beaten before the closing minutes of the game against the French who are back at their best and really nurturing their talent at the right time with a home World Cup starting to play on their minds.
There'll be calls for a mass overhaul in the Irish set up but don’t get it wrong. Ireland put themselves in a great position and a few mistakes let them down. All of a sudden you get social media experts calling for Johnny Sexton to retire, Jacob Stockdale isn’t fit to lace his own boots at the moment and Andy Farrell should lose his job.
That’s not how sport works. Some of the greatest people in sport will tell you that you can never get too high but also never get too low. That’s the challenge for everyone both inside and outside of the set up.
"Every coach has a philosophy...and that should emerge sooner rather than later. At the moment, I don't see how Ireland want to play..." - Eddie O'Sullivan on Ireland's identity dilemma pic.twitter.com/PWw9jnzc7j— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) November 2, 2020
Take a few mistakes out of Ireland’s performance, in miserable conditions, away to a defensively structured French side and it’s not all doom and gloom. However, to not change anything would be as big a mistake and something will have to give.
Stockdale is a huge talent and has the ability to be a monumental player for Ireland in the next World Cup, much like he was against New Zealand when Ireland went on to beat them. Last weekend wasn’t his greatest performance. Conditions were poor at the weekend but that can’t be an excuse for the Ulster man.
You have to change your expectations of the game and adapt to what is considered a positive outcome. He fumbled a lot of ball and at times all you need your full back to do is diffuse the situation and kill the ball to allow others to regroup.
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You don’t have to pick the ball up on the run, beat a few defenders and chip it over the last man’s head to have a positive game. Despite the errors, Stockdale continued to show up which is hugely positive for him but there was a bit of naivety there too. We wouldn’t have seen those errors from the likes of Rob Kearney and that’s the guy we need to replace.
Stockdale’s left boot is an asset when exiting from their own half but he needs the ball to go off the pitch more often that it currently is.
He could well be battling it out for his place on the wing again with the likes of Keenan, Conway, Earls and Larmour when all are fit again.
Lacking detail, line-out malfunction; the Ireland performance in France was symptomatic of this year's Six Nations campaign according to the Against The Head panel. #RTErugby pic.twitter.com/3IMPLzzxg5— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) November 2, 2020
The Autumn Nations Cup is an opportunity to try out a few combinations. However, it is not a time for wholesale changes. Unfortunately, there is a larger picture here as well. At international level you can’t go for massively experimental sides because rankings and points are so important.
A few losses on the bounce and you could find yourself in dangerous territory not only with the confidence of the squad but also with the rankings. These rankings matter a lot when coming into big tournaments and a team in free fall may find it very hard to recover if they keep drawing top-tier nations in the big competitions.
There is a chance to experiment with full-back options. Will Andrew Conway ever get a chance to fill the gap? Is it Shane Daly’s turn to get a cap and start to nurture him for the next few years? Will Keenan have the same impact on the game from a more central position? It’s time to find out who the long-term replacement for Rob Kearney is.
Stockdale seemed like a decent punt given his ability in the air, his kicking ability and his all-round attacking threat. Maybe Farrell and his management will back him from the positive aspects of his game and he can learn from some of the mistakes over the weekend but he will need to eliminate the mistakes from his game fairly quickly if he is to remain in contention.
The French defence was a real challenge for Ireland. Ireland resorted to a power game that worked to a certain degree considering the weather in Paris but it took the whole ten-minute sin-bin period for them to convert the try that Keenan so nearly scored before Anthony Bouthier was sent to the bin.
It was physically demanding and took a lot out of Ireland. James Ryan and CJ Stander stood up to the task. They could have done with the power of Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong who have had their say on big games in the past.
Is Ryan Baird ready to add his frame into the mix? Andrew Porter has stepped up in the last two games as well and all going well we may see the return of Dan Leavy to the Irish camp.
The pack doesn’t need to be reassembled. Depending on how the game plan develops in the next year or so there will probably be a few changes to the starting team, and the bench will be reinforced with players that will have a bigger impact.
The squad is a key factor in the next 6-12 months. Which younger players are going to get backed to have an impact on the squad and to drive the standards the of the group?
Craig Casey had another man-of-the-match performance away in Rodney Parade, albeit without the rumblings of the Dragons crowd, but he is on an upward trajectory and if he keeps going that way he could have a bigger say on the squad next year.
Jamison Gibson-Park offers something different to Conor Murray as well and should have been given more of a chance to impact the game last week. Murray was the right selection in the No 9 jersey but Gibson-Park plays with a different style. The game could have done with a different tactic before it reached the point of unravelling on Saturday evening. The change happened too late to have a bearing on the game.
We are in need of half-backs that can be brought off the bench to change the style of the game. Much like how Joey Carbery and Ian Madigan have both done in the No 10 jersey in the past.
Bringing on a second-choice player in a similar mould to the starting out-half isn’t going to change the course of a game when it isn’t going our way. Carbery is a loss for Farrell and unfortunately he won’t be back to challenge Sexton in the near future. I’m not sure anyone else will either in the current season.
No doubt the game plan will continue to develop when conditions allow it to and a handful of players will be given their chance in the next few weeks. Which direction that takes is down to Andy Farrell and his coaches, something that we’ll be eagerly awaiting before the Autumn Nations Cup kicks off.