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Dublin: 12°C Monday 14 June 2021

Six Nations opportunity beckons for Joe Schmidt's Ireland in Paris

The Irish record at Stade de France is poor but there are many reasons to be confident.

Murray Kinsella reports from Paris

IT’S A STRANGE position for Ireland to be in today ahead of a clash with the French in Paris [KO 4.45pm Irish time, TV3].

Firm favourites.

As Joe Schmidt said last week, the bookies don’t often get it wrong and some of them have Ireland as six-point favourites at the time of writing.

A general view of the Ireland team huddle Ireland during yesterday's captain's run. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Even with showers of rain forecast – often such a leveller in rugby – there is a strong sense of confidence around Ireland’s bid to get their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start before a run of three home games follows.

While Schmidt and his players were as keen as ever to manage expectations and excitement this week, today in Paris has to be seen as nothing other than a fantastic opportunity to kick off Ireland’s bid to regain the Six Nations title in winning fashion.

With Jacques Brunel and his inexperienced coaching staff having had just two weeks to work with the France squad, and with les Bleus featuring a raft of fresh faces in their matchday 23, including 19-year-old out-half Matthieu Jalibert, they appear vulnerable.

Ireland, on the other hand, have excellent November series form behind them, a host of experienced and sharp players in key positions and the energy of Six Nations debutants James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki sprinkled into a settled XV.

Many have cited Ireland’s long-standing poor record in France – they lost here most recently in the rain in 2016 in what was one of the poorest performances of Schmidt’s tenure – but rarely have Ireland looked so well set to take advantage of French weaknesses.

There is attacking class in the French ranks, undoubtedly, and Jalibert is just one of those capable of creating opportunities with his footwork, pace and daring attitude close to the defensive line or on the counter-attack.

Wings Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas can be lethal in space, but one suspects that Schmidt has concocted a few set-piece plays and kicking tactics to exploit their deficiencies on the other side of the ball.

Jonathan Sexton Johnny Sexton's experience will be vital. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

France’s scrum will be aggressive as always, with Rabah Slimani particularly capable of doing damage. Tadhg Furlong had a tough day in Paris back in 2016, but he is a totally different player now and Cian Healy on the loosehead has hit a new peak this season.

The French back row of the tireless Kevin Gourdon, explosive Yacouba Camara and lineout specialist Wenceslas Lauret cover a lot of bases – how they left Sekou Macalou out is a mystery – but again the Irish trio of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier have strengths in those areas too.

Given that Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton have the far greater halfback experience at this level, one would feel that Ireland have a real advantage in how they can control this contest – even if the French start well and bring their passionate supporters into the mix.

Again, lessons from 2016 are relevant for Ireland in this aspect of the game. That day, Schmidt’s men seemed muddy in their tactical thinking – opting to attack with ball in hand even when space opened in the backfield to kick to.

It’s likely that the new French fullback, the uncapped Geoffrey Palis – who showed a hesitancy to engage physically for Castres against Munster in Thomond Park recently – will be pushed to the limit by Sexton and Murray in his positional play.

Ireland’s efforts with ball in hand will be fascinating when they do decide to run. Forwards like Furlong, Ryan, O’Mahony and van der Flier are capable of delivering passes as well as using footwork before contact, potentially allowing Ireland to continue the development of their ball-in-hand efforts.

The midfield battle should be physically notable, with Aki taking on the power of Remi Lamerat and Henry Chavancy, while Robbie Henshaw does the same but also looks to bring his more subtle creative touches to bear now that he is in the 13 shirt.

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Rory Best Rory Best throws at the Stade de France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If Ireland’s playmakers can get the ball to width, Keith Earls’ form is sensational, while Stockdale showed in November that he is built for this level of the sport. Making up the back three is the reliability and communication of Rob Kearney from 15.

The Irish bench has the impact of Sean Cronin, Dan Leavy and Joey Carbery as well as the experience of Devin Toner and Fergus McFadden, although Brunel can spring energy with the likes of Antoine Dupont, Dany Priso and Marco Tauleigne.

Even so, when we compare and contrast the squads on an individual basis alone, Ireland look the stronger.

Take into account the fact that they have been preparing obsessively under Schmidt since 2013, aware of his demands and standards, and compare that to the fact that the French have had very little time to organise under Brunel, and it’s difficult to see beyond the widely predicted win for Ireland.

Anything other than that will surely feel like an opportunity missed.


15. Geoffrey Palis
14. Teddy Thomas
13. Rémi Lamerat
12. Henry Chavancy
11. Virimi Vakatawa
10. Matthieu Jalibert
9. Maxime Machenaud

1. Jefferson Poirot
2. Guilhem Guirado (captain)
3. Rabah Slimani
4. Sébastien Vahaamahina
5. Arthur Iturria
6. Wenceslas Lauret
7. Yacouba Camara
8. Kévin Gourdon


16. Adrien Pelissié
17. Dany Priso
18. Cedate Gomes Sa
19. Paul Gabrillagues
20. Marco Tauleigne
21. Antoine Dupont
22. Anthony Belleau
23. Benjamin Fall


15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. James Ryan
5. Iain Henderson
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander


16. Sean Cronin
17. Jack McGrath
18. John Ryan
19. Devin Toner
20. Dan Leavy
21. Luke McGrath
22. Joey Carbery
23. Fergus McFadden

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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