Why Ireland-France was no World Cup final

Why Ireland-France was no World Cup final


The opening game of the 2024 Six Nations has been described as the ‘World Cup final everyone wanted’ between the top two ranked teams heading into the tournament last September.

While clearly not going to be everyone’s desired final, Ireland’s 38-17 win over France on Friday night in Marseille was not what would have been four months ago.

Had these two nations faced off in last year’s final, that game would have played out very differently to what we saw in Marseille.

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The closest similarity to the World Cup final was that one side had 14 men for most of the match, yet Ireland showed South Africa what you ought to do when your opponent is down a man.

These two sides were different outfits to the ones seen last year, more so France, who were rather aimless without superstar Antoine Dupont.

Ireland were missing Johnny Sexton, a figurehead of the 2023 team, but felt the effect far less.

The 2023 editions of both Ireland and France are now ghosts of the past, bound to history as World Cup quarter-finalists.

In addition to both missing big names this year, they are dealing with the inescapable “World Cup hangover”.

The emotive state of the sides coming off quarter-final exits is not to be discounted. It is real and must be dealt with, especially with the dizzying expectations attached to both.

With that context this match cannot be considered on par with two sides right up for a fight for the ultimate prize.

Friday night showed that France really haven’t awaken from the migraine-thumping slumber of their home World Cup failure.

That downer emotional state showed, they were not up to it, despite a charged home crowd atmosphere in Marseille.

The mental state of the French players threatens to spiral them backward. Such is the perceived injustice of the World Cup exit, France appear to have lost their edge.

Ireland, a process-driven clinical side that thrives on detail, were able to put up a worthy performance however they weren’t met with much resistance from a lacklustre French outfit.

Even when it was 15 on 15, Ireland were up 17-3 before Willemse earned a second yellow card, later upgraded to a red.

How far Ireland have put last year’s disappointment behind them will be further tested this week, but perhaps hubris is the biggest danger.

Former Ireland players talked of a “lack of excitement” over such a big win against France.

Expectations for this Ireland side have been lifted to such grandiose levels it didn’t register on the dopamine scale.

We heard “it didn’t mean as much” with a Grand Slam already in the cabinet from last year, and the only thing to get excited about is a tour to South Africa in July.

It’s now predicted that Ireland will sweep the rest of Europe en route to a Grand Slam. That would be quite presumptuous after just one round.

Ireland’s set-piece will dominate the Italians and ultimately see them home, but the Azzurri have more hunger in them than France.

They ripped into a poor England side and should have got the result.

Hopefully for Ireland’s sake they don’t turn up with more hunger than those in green jerseys.

Ireland’s World Cup hangover might not be cured so easily with a feed of fried Chook.

 



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