Paul Wallace: Are we set for a fairytale ending for Brian O'Driscoll in Paris?
Paul Wallace looks at where Ireland will target France and pays tribute to Brian O'Driscoll.
By Paul Wallace
Last Updated: 14/03/14 2:46pm
Even in that loss against England I thought their decision making at the breakdown, the execution of what they were doing was superb. England deserved their win but I think, for once, tactically Joe Schmidt got it wrong.
Without the quickest back three, the decision to take everything off the top meant that they were not really geared up to breakdown a good England defence. The Ireland scrum was very strong, as was the lineout and the maul, so perhaps they could have stuck a bit more to that.
Heading to France, Schmidt has to get his tactics right because even though France have not been performing at all, they are also still in the running and there is always the chance that they can turn it on. They showed in the last World Cup that in a one-off game they can be a completely different animal.
I don't think this French side is in a position where they can pull off one of those one-off performances though - they have not quite the experience but the return of Louis Picamoles and Dimitri Szarzewski will definitely add something that was missing last weekend against Scotland.
Crucially the return of these two will help France get on the front foot - and when they get on the front foot, well they can be as ruthless as the All Blacks.
You have to look to overpower the French but the French are different to England as I don't think the aerobic fitness is there. If Ireland up the pace and tempo, that may well suit the Irish team come the last half hour.
Ireland have a very competitive back three but the line breaks against Italy were generally created around Jonny Sexton, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll. They made the space and out wide I don't think Ireland are that threatening. France, in contrast, have a back three who are incredibly dangerous on the counterattack - especially Yoan Huget.
Mathieu Bastareaud is another danger player for France, I think he has carried very well for them in the centre but I can see Ireland targeting him. The special awareness on the gain line of Sexton, O'Driscoll and D'Arcy will look to exploit Bastareaud. Traditionally he is known for not sticking to the defensive line and maybe not getting into position later on in the game.
That space around him is an area that Ireland will definitely be looking at exploiting. Instead of getting the ball out wide and trying to get a one-on-one with the wingers, it will be more of a case of tempting Bastareaud out of the defensive line and then put someone through the gap.
Brian O'Driscoll has been phenomenal. In Ireland they have banged on about a golden generation but I personally think that is not the case at all, it has been a golden player in Brian O'Driscoll. He may have lost a bit of pace but he showed against Italy that he still has those magic touches - I don't think there is another player who can make those passes.
What makes O'Driscoll not only a top class international but one of the greatest of all time is not the glamorous tries, the breaks or the amazing passes but the work rate in defence and his ability to read the 13 channel, which is the hardest to defend.
His decision making has been exceptional. O'Driscoll also turned the template for a No.13 around - his ability on the ground to turn over the ball changed the way centres play and he was one of the first backs to turn into a hybrid of a back and a back rower.
Fairytales don't often happen in sport; it does not work that way. But the fact that O'Driscoll is playing his final game in Paris against France in the Six Nations - where he really made his name all those years ago - has fairytale ending written all over it!