The constraints applied in the minds of coaches and players in high-profile tournaments may be spreading from the World Cup to the Six Nations.
The growing preponderance of penalty goals, 82 in the Six Nations last year compared to 52 a decade earlier, suggests that caution and fear of defeat have become the optimum factors in this unique tournament. It may also go some way to explaining why a team with a threequarter line as talented as Ireland's has so often failed to ignite in recent years.
During the era of what is called in Ireland the "golden generation", all Irish rugby has had to console itself with are three Triple Crowns, in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Ireland have only won a single Grand Slam, and that was 61 years ago. If Declan Kidney's new look side, an intriguing mixture of youth and experience, is to challenge that state of affairs this season, then they must find ways to break out of the tactical straitjacket imposed by Kidney's predecessor, Eddie O'Sullivan. But that won't be easy, as Brian O'Driscoll suggested this week.
"I think we have an exciting backline," he said. "You see a lot of guys with huge potential – if we can click. Hopefully, come five o'clock on Saturday evening, we'll click as a unit. There are different personnel in for this game so we've worked hard at understanding one another. But it's getting more and more difficult to get line-breaks at international level."
Clearly, Ireland has the backs to score tries, the French likewise. Players like O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Yannick Jauzion, Florian Fritz, Maxime Médard, Julien Malzieu and Clément Poitrenaud are richly blessed with pace and skills. But whether they and their coaches have the mentality, the courage and the conviction to seek a wide game and profit by pulling defences out of shape and alignment, remains to be seen.
Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), Wallace, L Fitzgerald; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Best, T Court , M O'Kelly, D Leamy, P Stringer, G D'Arcy, G Murphy.
France: C Poitrenaud; J Malzieu, Y Jauzion, F Fritz, M Medard; L Beauxis, S Tillous-Borde; L Faure, D Szarzewski, B Lecouls, L Nallet (capt), S Chabal, T Dusautoir, F Ouedraogo, I Harinordoquy. Replacements: B Kayser, N Mas, R Millo-Chluski, L Picamoles, M Parra, B Baby, C Heymans.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).Reuse content