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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 23 September 2020

Ireland's Six Nations hopes on the line with confident France in Dublin

It’s make or break for Joe Schmidt’s men against les Bleus.

IT’S GOOD FOR Ireland to be back in the thick of it. After a stroll in the Rome sun two weekends ago, today should bring a genuine Six Nations contest for Joe Schmidt’s men.

Rain is forecast for Dublin and one hopes the weather doesn’t force this to be another attritional battle between Ireland and les Bleus [KO 4.50pm], but it promises to be fascinating even if that transpires.

Guilhem Guirado France captain Guilhem Guirado at the Aviva yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Guy Novès’ men believe they are in better shape than ever. It seems crazy that this wasn’t the case up until now, but the leading French internationals did not play in last weekend’s Top 14 action as the Six Nations took a break.

Previously, the French players have been battered in the Six Nations down weekend, while their rivals put their feet up and recuperated.

“It’s a reason that makes us think we will be better than last season,” says France assistant coach Yannick Bru. “With the intensity of the international games, in particular in the Six Nations, we know it’s important for the guys to rest after two rounds.

“And the new convention between the FFR and the LNR allows us to rest the guys, so we had the opportunity for the first time in a long time to be fresh, the whole week, to work Monday and Tuesday, which is quite new for the French guys.”

No excuses this time around and you’d expect the French to bring a great deal of ferocious energy as a result. The pressure lies on Ireland’s shoulders, as Joe Schmidt’s side look to keep their title bid alive at home, and les Bleus will be happy with that.

With that mental weight on Ireland, it will be intriguing to see how they approach any early penalties the French cough up. Recent games have seen Schmidt’s men pursue tries, even when given kickable chances, and returning captain Rory Best says it has been a concerted move to do so.

“I think with Johnny [Sexton] and when Paddy [Jackson] was there, they’re two great tactical out-halves, they feel the game as well as I will and we’ll always have a wee chat about it,” said Best.

Rory Best Best and Sexton will call the shots for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But we want to stay attacking. It’s something that we’ve tried to push, definitely, this season and even last season in those last two games we really tried to push that attacking mindset.

“Every penalty, we’ll judge the merits of it, we’ll balance it up and I suppose we’ll either go for the corner or go for the posts, accordingly.

“But certainly it’s something that we want to be encouraging, we want to be a team that is attacking and constantly looking to apply pressure.”

Ireland’s defence under Andy Farrell will be tested by the French ambition, their penchant for offloading and moving the ball to the impactful Louis Picamoles, who often waits in in the wide channels.

France will also be targeting a huge performance at scrum time, having excelled there against England and Scotland.

Ireland loosehead Jack McGrath says starting French tighthead Rabah Slimani and gigantic replacement Uini Atonio are both “really dangerous,” and he also remembers how France got the nudge on in this area last year.

On a miserable day in Paris in 2016, the game was decided by a Maxime Médard try after a relentless series of scrums underneath the Ireland posts.

“In that moment of the game, they were under our posts and if the shoe was on the other foot, if we were under their posts and we were putting pressure on and there was a few collapses… the referees just want to look and see who is going forward essentially and so they did it on the day,” says McGrath.

France fans France fans in Dublin yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It was a difficult time, we learned a lot from it and have gotten a lot more street smart from that that game alone, because there was a few things that happened that we probably didn’t prepare for.”

Referee Nigel Owens will have a tough task on his hands in that department today, but the returning Sexton will also look to ensure that Ireland don’t spend great amounts of time in similar areas of the pitch.

His kicking game, combined with Conor Murray’s, will be essential for Ireland, both in exiting and targeting Noa Nakaitaci. It’s likely that Best will ask Owens to keep an eye on Sexton after he has passed and kicked, with last season’s clash in mind.

A new element in the French line-up for Ireland to deal with is scrum-half Baptiste Serin, the daring, skillful and confident 22-year-old who brings a crisp passing game and good decision-making alongside Camille Lopez.

“Baptiste is a really special player,” says Ian Madigan, who has been playing alongside Serin in the Top 14 with Bordeaux. “Deceptively very quick, fast pass, very accurate pass, gets to the breakdown really quickly, he is fit.

“He can box kick off both feet, loves a quick tap and he has got really flair – he can pull a rabbit out of his hat. He is one of those guys in training that regularly has guys standing still and saying, ‘That was incredible.’

“He is someone that Ireland definitely have to keep a close eye. He is a scrum-half that weighs up his options – he is not just thinking ‘service’, he is a threat himself.”

Ireland have been warned, and one has to think that the likes of Donnacha Ryan and CJ Stander will be looking to give Serin a reminder or two of their physical power whenever possible.

Baptiste Serin Serin has impressed at scrum-half for France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Of further interest is how Ireland approach their attacking game. We have seen the development of their attacking palate continue in the opening two games of the Six Nations, with the frequency of one-pass phases steadily declining.

With the weather that has been forecasted, that may have to reel the passing and width in slightly, but the confidence Ireland’s forwards have in their ability to pass is always growing.

“I think the main thing is guys being able to run lines off each other and reading each other a little bit more. That comes with playing more with each other,” says McGrath.

“We’re definitely more comfortable with the ball and I think that’s the way the game has gone now; it’s gone quicker and there are more phases, so you’re guaranteed to get the ball a little bit more.”

The tactical and technical interest in this game is multi-layered, but there is an important mental battle to be played out to.

The loser of this tie can wave good bye to their Six Nations hopes, while the victor advances with their belief continuing to grow.

“It will decide who will compete for first place and who will be disappointed for the two last games,” says Bru. ”It’s the first home game for Ireland, so we know it will be a big challenge for us, but I think we’re ready for it.”


15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Jonathan Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Donnacha Ryan
5. Devin Toner
6.  CJ Stander
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip


16. Niall Scannell
17. Cian Healy
18. John Ryan
19. Iain Henderson
20. Peter O’Mahony
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Paddy Jackson
23. Andrew Trimble


15. Scott Spedding
14. Yoann Huget
13. Rémi Lamerat
12. Gael Fickou
11. Noa Nakaitaci
10. Camille Lopez
9. Baptiste Serin

1. Cyril Baille
2. Guilhem Guirado (captain)
3. Rabah Slimani
4. Sébastian Vahaamahina
5. Yohann Maestri
6. Bernard Le Roux
7. Kevin Gourdon
8. Louis Picamoles


16. Christopher Tolofua
17. Uini Atonio
18. Eddy Ben Arous
19. Julien Le Devedec
20. Charles Ollivon
21. Maxime Machenaud
22. Henry Chavancy
23. Djibril Camara

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

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Murray Kinsella

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