In the countdown to the meeting between the world’s number 1 rugby team and the reigning Grand Slam winners, Telegraph Sport marks the cards for Ireland and France after the first round of Six Nations matches.
But who has the advantage going into Saturday’s game at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin?
Your package is in great shape. Victory over Wales on Saturday built on a blistering start from their forwards, who proved unstoppable from close range. Both Caelan Doris and James Ryan crossed. The former produced a particularly monstrous performance. Doris made 19 tackles without a miss and 56 meters on 15 carries from him. On set pieces, Andy Farrell’s men were typically solid. Paul O’Connell has the line-out purring (Ireland safely secured their own 15, while stealing two from Wales), while the visitors won six of their seven scrums. And this was without the best tighthead in the world, Tadhg Furlong, who won’t be available for France either.
Italy managed to achieve parity against a strong and intelligent French package, but there are few sets of forwards as balanced in all facets of forward grunt as France. Ireland might be the group (with both props and the number 8 often playing as centers) to match France, but one thing is for sure, it will be an all-powerful fight. Italy, despite a front line that handed a significant amount of weight to the French, gave the visitors from Rome some food for thought. Given Ireland’s prowess in the scrum, this could be an area they could exploit. And, without Cameron Woki, France lacks a winger with world-class athleticism. Defensively, expect fireworks – you’ll be in full swing.
Ireland 9 France 8
The last-minute withdrawal of Jamison Gibson-Park on Saturday was a real concern for traveling Irish fans who felt the pace of Farrell’s team could be affected. In the end, Conor Murray rose to the occasion, rolling back the years to give his team a solid platform. But Murray is moving on and isn’t even a starter for Munster at the moment. Ireland will again be without Gibson-Park on Saturday. Elsewhere, Ireland’s back line is in fine form, although Johnny Sexton’s continued reliance on number 10 is a problem. However, with such stable foundations, Ireland have been able to add more and more complexity to their backline moves.
There is supreme talent everywhere you look, as well as the best player in the world, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that France, in their previous few games, have not been at their devastating best on the wide channels. Injury has strained them a bit – Jonathan Danty and Gabin Villière would certainly have started in Rome on Sunday if the duo had been fit – but questions remain over numerous positions behind the scrum for France. Yoram Moefana was solid but nothing else in the win over Italy, while head coach Fabien Galthié has never managed to find a full-back he can commit to; Thomas Ramos and Melvyn Jaminet almost alternating in and out of the jersey. And is Romain Ntamack, despite his limitless talents, really the man to lead France’s attack in the opening position? More on that below.
Ireland 8 France 7
Farrell was at pains to say what difference the bench made in Ireland’s win over Wales, regaining control of the game after a difficult third quarter. This is an area where Ireland have vastly improved since 2019, when they were last ranked No.1 only to suffocate and stagnate under Joe Schmidt. Farrell has bloodied plenty of fringe players, and they all seem to know what they’re doing when called upon. Even in the so-called problem position of number 10, Ross Byrne made an impact after replacing Johnny Sexton for the last 20 minutes or so. Ireland can look forward to the France game with confidence in the depth of the team.
With injuries to some key men including Danty, Peato Mauvaka and Woki, France’s depth is being tested. Their bench doesn’t have the same fear factor as when they are at full strength, but their impact cannot be underestimated. Against Italy, both Romain Taofifénua and Sekou Macalou impressed off the bench, dragging France to the limit in Rome. While Nolann Le Garrec didn’t hit it off, he is a stand-in for Antoine Dupont. And, outside of those, the debate will rage as to who should start at fly-half. Ntmack showed flashes of brilliance against Italy, but so did Matthieu Jalibert, with the latter securing the winning score. France have plenty of options when it comes to choosing the number 10 shirt, but it might be time to give Jalibert’s more holistic strengths a try.
Ireland 8 France 9
One area where France probably has the advantage is X Factor. Despite Ireland being solid and well-structured, they still don’t have the full-court play of France, New Zealand or even Australia. They don’t have a conjurer at number 9 like Dupont, or a magician at number 10 like Ntamack. They don’t throw it like the All Blacks. Ireland only attempted five offloads on Saturday, half as many as Wales. Which is not to say that Ireland is one-dimensional. far from there The likes of Garry Ringrose, James Lowe, Tadhg Beirne, Tadhg Furlong and Hugo Keenan are all capable of doing something special and have the confidence to try too.
an easy one. In the last three years, France have shown that when they flip a switch, when they are in a good mood, they are unstoppable; more than any other team in world rugby. Dupont continues to marvel despite being tracked as a hunter regardless of the opposition. Ntamack can pull rabbits out of berets, and sometimes even Damian Penaud doesn’t know what he’s going to do next, let alone defense. Every time people mention France’s X Factor, their joie de vivre, ironically brings to mind Covid. They came to Twickenham in the 2021 Six Nations and somehow lost to one of the bravest English displays of the Eddie Jones era, behind closed doors. But it took a lot of English power to achieve that victory; France played with the most cliché nonchalance, but played some of the most penetrating and precise attacking rugby Twickenham has ever seen, over a sustained period of 80 minutes. Part of their game, when they’re in a good mood, takes their breath away.
Ireland 7 France 10
After a 2-1 series win in New Zealand last summer and an unbeaten autumn that included wins over Australia and South Africa, it’s no surprise that Ireland are brimming with confidence. It also won’t hurt if France were pushed all the way by Italy on Sunday. Farrell has said many times that the most important thing for Ireland is to “play like themselves”; to accept the pressure that comes with being the number 1 team in the world rankings. After severely choking four years ago, there are signs that this Ireland team is doing just that.
This is a difficult question to judge. On the one hand, the current French team is a record; on an unprecedented 14-match winning streak, unbeaten in 2022, including a Grand Slam and a win over the reigning world champions, and owns some of the best players in the world. However, they seem fallible. Italy were tremendous against them on Sunday, and by winning that match, France cannot be accused of underperforming, but since their Grand Slam last year, they have lacked the authority that some of their previous victories were combined with. . There have also been questions about the French teams in the Champions Cup. Dublin is not an ideal destination for a team that is not brimming with confidence but, at the same time, imagine the morale boost they would receive if they won Ireland at home. The world would be his oyster.