Ahead of the Ireland v France Six Nations fixture two years ago, president of the French Farmers Association Cristiane Lambert and I met with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

We spent over four years hoping for the best but fearing the worst with Brexit, and for last Sunday's game, we had spent the week doing the same thing.

Like most Irish rugby supporters, my heart and my head were locked in a battle all week leading up to Valentine’s Day. The head held tough though, the heart having to accept that the team were about as likely to beat the French as Donald Trump is to head up the UN anytime soon.

Loss of leaders

Yes, it was a gutsy performance. To be fair, taking to the field without leaders such as Johnny Sexton, Peter O Mahony, James Ryan and Conor Murray was always going to make things difficult. If you were to pick a combined 15 from the French and Irish squads before and after Sunday’s game, Tadhg Beirne, Robbie Henshaw and maybe two to three more Irish lads would probably be about all who would squeeze on to it. The Irish would account for, at most, a third of the chosen fifteen.

The final scoreline of 15-13 flattered us but poses a few warning signs for this French outfit as well. Ireland never looked like winning this game. We got a lucky bounce from a poorly executed French lineout and replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher showed good pace to score our lone try. This at a time when France looked like they would put us to the sword.

Whether it was down to Paul O'Connell's influence or not remains to be seen, but Beirne, Ruddock and Henderson had the French lineout in all sorts of trouble in the first half. This was one of the positives from the game. Indeed, the stats overall looked ok for Ireland apart from the 11 offloads for the French to our three.

The Irish scrum was solid right through even winning a penalty in the 12th minute.

One measure of Ireland’s dominance of possession in the first half was that France put in twice as many tackles as Ireland. However, our problem for some time now has been a lack of cutting edge. We’re not a threat with ball in hand and apart from James Lowe's disallowed try, we never looked like breaking Shaun Edwards' brilliantly organised French defence which knocked us back on the gain line at will.

Planning ahead

So what do the management do over the next fortnight before our next game against Italy?

I think they should go for broke for the remainder of the Championship. On current form, it is difficult to envisage a victory over the Scots in Edinburgh or the English when they arrive into Dublin on the final weekend. For our trip to Rome and even thereafter, I would be looking at changes on the wings, the half backs, hooker and probably a new face in the back row to freshen it up. I would even suggest that some of last Sunday’s starters be released back to their clubs to prove their worth again. Bring in new faces to the subs bench and give those changes a chance over the three remaining games.

We’re competitive, we’re not a million miles away. We’re just not there either, but there is hope.

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