Well, Ireland started the match against France very well. It seemed to be a complete turn around from last week’s game. We dominated for the first 15 minutes, with Cian Healy scoring a try. We really had the French on the ropes and it looked like it could be one of Ireland’s best performances of the year. For some reason though, Ireland completely took their foot off the gas and the French ran riot. All the verve of the first few minutes seemed to evaporate and their was no life in the Irish team or their performance. France quickly got into a comfortable lead, and soon they were winning by 26-8. Ireland though, like they did last week, and before, got back into the match and started threatening the French line. The French defence had been briliant after the initial Irish onslaught, but the players started to tire, and cracks started to appear in the French line. The Irish backs started to play with the ball, and when Fitzgerald came on he made some good runs, setting up a try by Sexton. Sean O’Brien powered over soon after, and the game finished a respectable 26-22. The final score wasn’t really a fair reflection on the bulk of the play, though as France had dominated most of the game, and the late scores came when they had started to tire. Ireland have now lost their third international of the warm-up series. This game was closer than the previous 2, and the performance was better, much better at times. But Ireland really need to maintain a good performance for most of the game, if we are to have any chance of doing well in the World Cup. I’ve said this all before but it’s true.Sean O’Brien and Andrew Trimble were 2 of the stars of the game. Both made strong runs, O’Brien scored a try, and look to have played themselves into the first 15. Most players had an off day, though. Scum-half Tomas O’Leary had a pretty poor game, capped off by his throwing an intercept pass. His cause wasn’t helped by the fact that Eoin Reddan looked dominant when he came on, and he seemed responsible for the surge in the Irish performance. Earls was a bit wayward, and I have some doubts about him now. I would certainly pick Fergus McFadden ahead of him. Thankfully, both D’Arcy and O’Driscoll got through the match unscathed (this was their first match back after injuries) but neither provided anything partiuclalry memorable. Felix Jones started the match (his first start) quite well, but than grew quiet and unfortunately had to leave the field injured (Healy also suffered a bad injury, which is worrying for the squad. Healy is one of our best players. The try he scored was a great moment of individual brilliance). As it stands I would probably pick Geordan Murphy ahead of him (Murphy should start against England). Shane Jennings, after drafted in as a late replacement for David Wallace, needed to put a great performance in. Ireland currently have only one specialist open-side flanker (Wallace) which isn’t enough. None of the other players are really putting their hands up for selection. Stephen Ferris wasn’t really on the field long enough. Ferris should start against England so he can show the selectors what he’s made of. All in all, it was a pretty poor performance. Let’s hope it’s better against England next week.
 
There were 3 other matches on today (Saturday) as well. A strong South Africa side beat a second-choice New Zealand team, 18-5. It was a typical South African performance, with a dominant pack and good defence, with all their points came from the boot of Morne Steyn. All season they’ve scored a combined total of 3 tries! They’ll need to improve that ratio if they are to have any chance of successfully defending the World Cup (they won it in 2007). It was New Zealand’s first defeat of the year (actually South Africa’s first victory!) which will cause some worry.  
 
Wales scored their second successvie victory, when they beat Argentina 28-13. This will put them in good stead when they face South Africa in the first of their World Cup games. Unfortunately, their first choice outhalf, Stephen Jones, had to back out again through injury. Hopefully Jones will be fit come the World Cup, as he is one of their best players. He also played well for the British and Irish Lions against South Africa 2 years ago. Not a great performance by Argentina, who have a tough pool in the World Cup, when they play Scotland and England.
 
Scotland beat Italy 23-12. This is Scotland’s second successive victory, after they beat us at the start of the warm-up series. This will help their confidence going into their tough pool. It wasn’t a great performance by the Scots though, they were outplayed for a lot of the game. They’ll need to play much better if they are to have a chance of progressing in the World Cup. Their record of appearing in the Quarter-Finals of every World Cup so far could be in jeopardy.
 
A mixture of results for the teams, than, as the World Cup gets ever closer. No one team has really shown their best form yet. Hopefully they’ll do so when it matters.
 
Declan Kidney will be picking his squad of 30 for the World Cup on Monday 22nd. So far my picks would be:
 
BACKS: Kearney, Murphy, Bowe (who hasn’t played yet. Hopefully against England), Trimble, Fitzgerald (probably ahead of Earls), McFadden, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Paddy Wallace (not the best but we need his ability to play at outhalf, and as a place-kicker), Sexton, O’Gara, Reddan (as first choice scrum half. The others are a bit difficult to decide on. Neither Boss or O’leary have played particularly well, and new boy Conor Murray is an unproven comodity. Stringer seems to be out of the mix, unfortunately).
 
FORWARDS: Best, Flannery (who should start against England), Cronin, Healy (if he’s fit. Let’s hope so), Ross (not sure about the other props. Buckley has been poor, Hayes might be passed it) O’Connell, O’Callaghan, Cullen, Mick O’Driscoll, David Wallace, Heaslip, Leamy, O’Brien.
 
What do you think? What are your picks? 

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