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Ireland lacked leadership in final 10 minutes against France - Brent Pope

Brent Pope believes that Ireland lacked composure and leadership against France in the dying moments of the game.

Brent Pope joined Off The Ball on Saturday to review Ireland and France's Six Nations clash in Paris.

Jonathan Sexton was a surprise absence for Ireland.

Sexton developed an injury during the week leading up to the game, so Joey Carbery was pushed into the starting lineup. It was Carbery's first career Six Nations start. The Munster man excelled in difficult conditions against a French side that was on top for most of the game.

Replacing Sexton the player wasn't as difficult as replacing Sexton the leader.

During the final 10 minutes of the game, Ireland capitulated. They made unforced errors and mismanaged the situation when the game was there to be won. Trailing by six points on 72 minutes, James Ryan kicked three points instead of kicking the ball into the corner to pursue a try.

Hugo Keenan then kicked the ball up the air when time had run out. It was a far cry from Ireland's last win in Paris, when Sexton kicked a long-range drop goal for the win.

Ireland needed better leadership. Ryan will learn from it. Andy Farrell will too, despite him protecting his players publicly. Brent Pope outlined how Ireland can learn from the New Zealand approach in the final minutes.

"They would have viewed that last few minutes completely differently," Pope said.

"The number of games that are won and lost in the last couple of minutes in rugby is incredible...And if you can retain the ball in the opposition 22, sooner or later they're going to make a mistake, sooner or later they're going to come offside. Because the emphasis then is on the referee to give the penalty."

Pope cites New Zealand as the greatest example of this approach. They retain the ball for as long as possible, forcing the defence to come and win it off of them rather than voluntarily offering up a competition for it. But you don't need to follow the All Blacks to understand that concept.

Ireland made naïve decisions and naïve mistakes in the final moments of the game. Fortunately, a lot of the players who made those mistakes are still in the earlier stages of their careers.

They can, and likely will learn from them. But it still makes you wonder about the current make-up of the team.

"Who is making the decisions out there at the key times?"

"If it's not Johnny Sexton on the pitch...when you look at your captaincy you've got to look at a player who is going to make the starting team. So you can't look at someone such as Peter O'Mahony or someone like that. I get that. Players like James Ryan have to have experience and the only way they can get experience is by having matches like this.

"But there's got to be some sort of call or whatever...calm down, let's not panic. Play to how we know we can play."

Pope outlined that Ireland were lacking situational awareness. He indirectly outlined the culture in the group. Sexton goes to the corner aggressively because his mindset is to win the game and do so in emphatic fashion. It's a mentality he has always carried with him. The younger players need to develop that.

Kicking the penalty in that scenario means playing for the draw or losing bonus point. It also means it's difficult to get back down the field and score again. Even if you kick to the corner and get stopped, France would still have to exit from their own try line. That sets Ireland up with another attacking platform.

"The message should have been out from a number of players, hold onto the effing ball. When I was playing, I was a loose forward I'd be screaming to the backs 'Don't you dare think about kicking this ball away. Don't dare.' While there's still time on the clock, we can still win this match so just keep it alive.

"What we saw was a bunch of individuals in the last couple minutes of that game thinking 'What do I do here now?'"

Andrew Porter is probably the best loosehead in the world - Darren Cave.


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Andy Farrell France Fugby Ireland Rugby James Ryan Jonathan Sexton Six Nations Rugby