Ireland v France - Teams and Prediction
SIX NATIONS, ROUND TWO: Ireland host France at Lansdowne Road on Saturday in one of the most eagerly awaited Six Nations clashes of recent years pitching the top two world ranked teams against each other.
Number one Ireland is seeking a record 13th successive home win against second-ranked France, who were the last team to beat the hosts at Lansdowne Road, in February 2021.
France achieved the Grand Slam last year and is bidding for a national record-extending 15th consecutive Test win.
They are the only top-tier side Irish head coach Andy Farrell is yet to beat since he took over at the helm after the 2019 World Cup.
Farrell said the job Galthie had done was mightily impressive.
“They are a fantastic team, I was speaking to Fabien Galthie at the Six Nations launch and congratulated him,” said Farrell.
“The backroom staff and players have really got something going, indeed French rugby generally is buzzing at the moment.”
However, Farrell says the Irish have their ways too of rattling the French, who were given a stern test by Italy last Sunday before winning 29-24.
“By playing our own game and making sure we are courageous to take our game to them and ask questions of their defence,” said Farrell.
“We need to put in an 80-minute performance as breaking them down as a team is very tough.”
Farrell, though, admitted he would rather be a fan come Saturday.
“I wish I was going down walking to the game with my mates, family, kids,” said the 47-year-old Englishman.
“This is the type of game everyone wants to be part of. It’s got a bit of spice about it.”
*Article continues below…
Murray’s chance to dispel doubters
It is hard to imagine there should be a question mark over a player set to win his 102nd cap but that is the case with Conor Murray.
The 33-year-old scrumhalf is a fighter, though, and has kept plugging away despite losing his long-time slot as first-choice scrumhalf for Ireland to Jamison Gibson-Park.
He has also come under pressure for his province Munster with the youngster Craig Casey pressing his claims to take over the starting spot.
Murray’s perceived weakness is he is not a quick passer like Gibson-Park which slows down any momentum for the backline.
However, if France is expecting to smother the Irish attack through targeting Murray then his long-time halfback partner Johnny Sexton will have put them right.
Murray certainly played his part when he came in as a late starter last Saturday against Wales after Gibson-Park suffered a hamstring injury.
Farrell had preferred not to elaborate on why Murray had been considered a doubt for the match.
“[Murray is in] good spirits. For personal reasons I’d like to keep that as it is.”
Farrell was forced to make just the one change to the starting line-up that impressed in the 34-10 victory over Wales last Saturday.
Rob Herring comes in at hooker for Dan Sheehan, who has been ruled out due to a hamstring injury.
Ronan Kelleher has recovered from a similar injury and will fill the hooker spot on the replacement bench.
“I might sound like a broken record but this is exactly what will happen down the road in the World Cup,” Farrell said of losing players.
“We will have a small squad and a 12 days turnaround, rightly so, for concussion.
“We will be numbers down but you have go with the punches.
“I am happy with the way the squad is developing and Rob has always added to the performance.”
*Article continues below…
Backrow set for all-action tussle
Antoine Dupont and Sexton have both been crowned World Player of the Year in the past but it is the present one Josh van der Flier – trademark red scrumcap and all – who will be licking his lips at erasing the threat of the dynamic French scrumhalf.
Ireland may be lacking in a natural successor to Sexton at flyhalf but they have an abundance of top-class backrow forwards.
Van der Flier, veteran Peter O’Mahony and Caelan Doris reaped a rich harvest against the Welsh.
The French trio of Gregory Alldritt, former captain Charles Ollivon and Anthony Jelonch will also be hoping to be back at their rampaging best against the Irish.
“It’s an all-action back row, perhaps one of the best in the world at the moment, with Van der Flier, Doris, O’Mahony,” said Alldritt.
“We know what we’re up against but whether it’s their back row or the whole pack, it’s hyper-mobile. It promises to be a great battle.”
Players to watch:
For Ireland: Head coach Andy Farrell was forced to make just the one change to the starting line-up that impressed in the victory over Wales last Saturday. Rob Herring comes in at hooker for Dan Sheehan, who has been ruled out due to injury. It’s a huge task for the No.2, who joins Andrew Porter – playing in his 50th cap – and Finlay Bealham in the front row. Also winning his 50th Test cap is lock James Ryan, who would certainly want to produce a winning performance on the memorable occasion.
For France: Despite the nervy performance against Itay last week, Fabien Gatlhie has kept the faith and named an unchanged starting XV. The side has a chance to redeem themselves with captain Antoine Dupont leading the way. The scrumhalf was incredible in the first half last week and will again be the one to keep a close eye on. The scrumhalf’s influence on a match is impeccable, dictating much of France’s attack. His halfback partner flyhalf Romain Ntamack is another vital part of the France set-up and he will have his work cut out for him against the experienced Johnny Sexton. When it comes to set-pieces lock Paul Willemse will add the much-needed force and is certainly an area the French could exploit, while Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand and Cyril Baille need to be very physical up front.
Head to head:
The Last 10 encounters:
@rugby365com: Ireland by three points
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Bundee Aki.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Thibaud Flament, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Gaetan Barlot, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Francois Cros, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Baptiste Couilloud, 23 Matthieu Jalibert.
Date: Saturday, February 11
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.15 (14.15 GMT; 15.15 France time)
Expected weather: Partly sunny with a high of 11°C and a low of 5°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)