Preview: Ireland v France

Date published: February 12 2011

After enjoying contrasting fortunes on the opening weekend, Ireland and France will have similar objectives in Dublin on Sunday.

After enjoying contrasting fortunes on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, Ireland and France will have similar objectives in Dublin on Sunday.

The games in Paris and Rome could not have been more different. While the Stade de France was entertained by a seven-try spectacle, Ireland were made to dig deep in an arm wrestle in Italy where their fighting spirit finally saw them home.

Our favourite 'Caveman' came up with a great quote this week: “What's important is to score more than your opponents.”

Talk about stating the obvious!

Of course, Mr. Chabal was trying to make a similar point to England coach Martin Johnson in the build up to Round Two: Two tournament points for a win is all that counts. Whether you score two tries or twenty is irrelevant, as long as you score more than the opposition. After last week I'm sure many Irishmen would agree.

It's probably safe to say that we can expect a massive improvement from the men in green come Sunday. But with just one win in nine starts against les Bleus will that improvement be enough to beat a French side that were running rampant against a Scottish team that were victorious the last time they visited Dublin?

France truly were electrifying on the counter attack at the Stade de France. There's more than just a hint of 'Toulouseness' in the way they were off-loading to support runners. Lest we forget that France's backs coach, Emile Ntamack, is former protégé of Guy Novès and the starting back three at Lansdowne Road this weekend are all Toulousains (like Maxime Médard and Clément Poitrenaud, Bayonne wing Yoann Huget is a product of the Toulouse academy).

Yet it was easy to get carried away with France's opening victory because of the excitement created by three superb tries. Closer inspection however reveals that Marc Lièvremont's side missed a staggering 25 tackles, suggesting the defensive frailties that were exposed against Australia have yet to be properly resolved.

Just as noteworthy is the fact that apart from their penalty try, all of Frances' tries came from counter attacks off mistakes made by the Scots rather than their own initiative.

Some rudimentary logic would thus dictate that if Ireland don't give France counter-attacking opportunities by handing over possession, they should be in business since they're bound to find holes in the Tricolor defence…

OK, that assessment is far too basic but it does offer the hosts food for thought, especially considering the woeful handling on display from the Irish backs seven days ago.

All this talk of the backs yet, the truth be told, if there is one sector that has been giving Irish fans sleepless nights this week, it's the scrum.

When it's time to pack down, Ireland's big boys have been under regular pressure in recent times and Rome was no exception. Now they must face the only scrum in the world stronger than Italy's. France has a monster set piece. It's so big in fact that they've been award three penalty tries in their last four matches!

So, objective number one for both teams will be to cut out the fundamental errors made in their opening performances.

For Ireland, more fumbles and poor passes could either a hand France a chance to counter attack with a loose ball or ply pressure at scrum time. France, on the other hand, simply cannot afford to not make their tackles with the likes of Brian O'Driscoll ready to pounce if given half a chance.

Players to watch:

For Ireland: After Ronan O'Gara told the world that it was his experience that saved the day in Italy, Jonathan Sexton will be keen to show all and sundry just how much he has to offer the starting line-up. Both sides have made it clear that they want to have a full go with ball in hand and with a rare sunny day expected in Dublin, the young Leinsterman has a chance to….er…shine.

For France : Much of the pre-match talk has centred (excuse the pun) around Damien Traille as the Biarrot starts in his third position in as many Tests. Traille had a poor game at fly-half against the Wallabies, a solid outing at full-back last week and now gets a chance at his preferred position at 12. France's midfield might be new as a partnership (the nineteenth of the Lièvremont era) but as veterans of the Test side, Traille and Aurélien Rougerie are no strangers. The battles of the centres should be epic.

Head-to-head: Euan Murray and co. bore the brunt of France's brutal scrum power last week – can the Irish pack do better? Mike Ross did pretty well against Thomas Domingo when Leinster took on Clermont in December, but the Domingo-Servat-Mas combination has yet to meet it's match in world rugby. It could long afternoon for Ireland if the current trend continues.

Previous results:
2010:France won 33-10 at Stade de France, Paris
2009: Ireland won 30-21 at Croke Park, Dublin
2008: France won 26-21 at Stade de France, Paris
2007: France won 25-3 at Stade de France, Paris (RWC)
2007: France won 20-17 at Croke Park, Dublin
2006: France won 43-31 at Stade de France, Paris
2005: France won 26-19 at Lansdowne Rd, Dublin
2004: France won 35-17 at Stade de France, Paris
2003: France won 43-21 at Colonial Stadium, Melbourne (RWC)
2003: Ireland won 15-12 at Lansdowne Rd, Dublin
2002:France won 44-5 at Stade de France, Paris
2001:Ireland won 22-15 at Lansdowne Rd, Dublin
2000: Ireland won 27-25 at Stade de France, Paris

Prediction: Based on last week, you have to back France. Ireland will be much, much better – of that we have no doubt – but the apparent gap between the sides at the moment would be tough to bridge in one week. France by five points.

The teams:

France: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Damien Traille, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Sylvain Marconnet, 18 Jerome Thion, 19 Sébastien Chabal, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 Yannick Jauzion, 22 Vincent Clerc.

Ireland: 15 Luke Fitzgerald, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Paddy Wallace.

Date: Sunday, February 13
Venue: Lansdowne Road (Aviva Stadium), Dublin
Kick-off: 15.00 GMT
Weather: 8°C. Clear skies.
Referee: Dave