Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ireland have lost to France three times under Farrell.
# Allez les Verts
Farrell's Ireland target first win over France in possible Grand Slam decider
The French will be in town on Saturday and the Ireland boss is expecting a raucous atmosphere.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 6th 2023, 9:36 AM

ANDY FARRELL KEEPS on adding achievements to his CV and now he goes after another huge milestone this weekend in Dublin.

The 47-year-old has guided Ireland to wins over the All Blacks, Australia, South Africa, England, Wales, Scotland, Argentina, Japan, Italy, the US, Georgia, and Fiji.

Last weekend, his team won in Cardiff – Ireland’s first Six Nations victory there since 2013. They’ve had a series success in New Zealand and two clean sweeps of November campaigns. Now, they’re after a Six Nations title and one suspects that they have targetted a Grand Slam.

To do it, they have to beat France for the first time. Farrell has tasted defeat in his three outings against les Bleus with Ireland so far. 

Fabien Galthié’s men got their Grand Slam defence underway yesterday with a dramatic 29-24 bonus-point win over Italy in Rome. They weren’t at their best, but Italy gave them a very good workout in preparation for the latest chapter of their rivalry with Farrell’s team. This Saturday in Dublin promises to be epic.

In 2020, Ireland lost 35-27 at an empty Stade de France before the Farrell reign had truly ignited.

The last two encounters have been tighter, with a 15-13 defeat at the Aviva Stadium in 2021 followed by a 30-24 loss in Paris last year. Farrell cites those games as important learning experiences for his team and one factor stands out.

“Being ourselves is the main thing, I think,” said Farrell of taking on France.

tadhg-beirne-dejected-after-the-game Billy Stickland / INPHO Ireland came up short in Paris last year. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“They’re just as dangerous on the break, they’ve got a strong set-piece and they’re going to be powerful and you need to hold your own line. Playing our own game is the main thing.”

What does Farrell mean when he says he wants Ireland to be themselves?

“I thought we didn’t attack the game like I know we can do in the first 15, 20 minutes of the game,” he explained.

“We got ourselves back into the game and had a chance of winning, so being ourselves from the start would help.”

It should help that Farrell believes his captain, Johnny Sexton, will be fit to face the French this time.

The Ireland skipper missed the last two outings against the French, with Billy Burns starting in the number 10 shirt in 2021 and Joey Carbery lining up there last year.

Sexton passed a HIA in Cardiff on Saturday and Farrell said the out-half’s “slight dead leg” should be fine for this weekend.

Still, Farrell will have taken great heart from Ross Byrne’s outing off the bench in Cardiff. The Leinster man was assured in his 12-minute cameo off the bench, continuing his excellent form as he looked more comfortable than ever in Ireland’s attack shape.

But 37-year-old Sexton remains crucial in Farrell’s eyes.

“There’s no doubts about his age in our mind,” said the Ireland boss. “I spoke to him over the last two weeks constantly about, ‘There’s no excuse, you need to be at your best’. He cares about his rugby so much and cares about doing such a good job for his team.

“He was saying there, he was nervous about the game but we were trying to get him to the point where he’s just going to be at his best even though he hadn’t played for so long. He handles that, runs a team, as in makes the team feel right and then goes out and performs at the same time. I thought his goalkicking was excellent as well, it’s a testament to his character.”

johnny-sexton-celebrates-winning Dan Sheridan / INPHO Sexton has missed the last two French games. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Sexton would relish leading Ireland into this massive battle. Remember that the visit to Paris in 2020 was a deeply frustrating one for him, the Ireland captain exiting the pitch shaking his head after being replaced by Byrne.

It remains to be seen whether tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong recovers from his calf issue in time to face the French. Finlay Bealham had a good game in Cardiff last weekend but Furlong’s return would be an obvious boost. Similarly, Conor Murray was good against the Welsh but Jamison Gibson-Park has become a key man for Ireland. Gibson-Park and Cian Healy are understood to have been ruled out of the Wales game with hamstring issues, but Ireland are due to issue an injury update this afternoon. 

Farrell believes Ireland have teed themselves up well for this test against the French. He was pleased with a bonus-point victory in Cardiff, where Ireland have previously struggled to win, and was also happy that there is plenty to focus on this week.

He cited the discipline and “getting the consistency of our performance” across the 80 minutes as being key.

Farrell expects a raucous occasion for Saturday’s 2.15pm kick-off at the Aviva Stadium.

“I think everyone realises what’s coming next week and there’s one thing about an Irish crowd – they know that if there’s a big game and they have to get behind the team they are the best in the world, there’s no doubt about that.”

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