FORGET about everything that transpired in the Aviva last weekend because it will have zero reflection as to what’s going to happen in Paris tomorrow.
While last Saturday’s tie was billed as a full-blown Six Nations fixture, in reality, Italy are nothing more than an average, mid-table Pro 14 side.
You may think that’s a rather harsh assessment, but results do not lie.
The major plus that Ireland can take away from the victory was that the new caps and lesser experienced players took their opportunity by the horns and commanded all the subsequent headlines.
I’ve often seen new players freeze with the weight of responsibility that comes with putting on a full international jersey. On this occasion, however, it was, thankfully, not to be the case.
Will Connors, Hugo Keenan, Jamison Gibson-Park, and Ed Byrne all played well. However, what lies in wait tomorrow night in Stade de France will be a more appropriate test of their international proficiencies.
Trying to illustrate the difference between what France will bring to the party and how Italy play is quite difficult.
Just liken it to watching a 1999, 1 ltr Ford Fiesta trying to compete in a Formal One race.
Not only would it not have the power, pace, and breaking capabilities of an F1 machine, it also lacks the tailoring and, more importantly, the pedigree that makes a F1 car a thing of beauty to look at.
When the French play the game as it was meant to be played it is a sight to behold.
Forwards controlling their opponents like a puppeteer; backs running powerful and devastating lines like thoroughbred race horses in full flight.
It is near on impossible to halt the advances of a French team who are 100% committed to the cause and are playing on home soil.
I’m not saying it is impossible; if Ireland allow their opponents any kind of early momentum, it will take a performance of monumental proportions to stop them.
It is never nice to learn that an opposing playerhas to be withdrawn because of injury; in the case of French winger Teddy Thomas we’ll make an exception.
A team-mate of Simon Zebo in Racing 92, the 27-year-old mesmerising runner picked up a hamstring injury towards the end of last weekend’s 38-21 win over Wales at the Stade de France, in which he also scored a fantastic late try.
Bizarrely, his place on the squad was given to a young out-half from Bordeaux, Matthieu Jalibert, but this is how the French operate. They take risks and when they pay off, they do so in style.
Silencing the partisan and boisterous home supporters is something that all teams who play in France try to achieve as part of their psychological game plan. However, this will not be an issue on this occasion as the venue will be empty due to Covid restrictions in the French capital.
You would like to think that this might favour Andy Farrell’s charges, but with the French having already played against the Welsh, and experiencing the hollowness of such a gigantic stadium, it might actually work against us on this occasion. Silence can be very distracting and off-putting when you are not expecting it.
Last weekend the Irish front row of Healy, Herring, and Porter had a bit of an armchair ride and while they didn’t exactly dominate their opposing numbers, they never came under any kind of serious pressure.
They just went through the motions and did what they had to do, but never truly hammered home their physical attributes.
On the international stage, front rows will not be awarded too many opportunities to have their opponents eating the grass they play on and I do believe that it is us who could be chewing the cud tomorrow because if the French even think they have the ascendency, they will have Healy and company ploughing the pitch with their teeth.
Once again, the ability of Johnny Sexton to guide his players into advantageous quarters will have a big bearing on how this game pans out and receiving the ball going forward will be a massive help to the Leinster legend.
If Ireland are going to have any hope of winning this game, not to mention score four tries, the minimum that Sexton must demand from his forwards is a solid platform to work off from scrum and line-out.
Receiving the ball while stuck in reverse gear with a rampaging French back-row wanting your head on a plate so they can parade it up and down the Champs-Élysées is the last thing any out-half wants to face.
Twenty years ago, a skinny Brian O’Driscoll sauntered through a French team like a red-hot knife would through butter and, with that, a star was born.
Nobody knew who this 21-year-old was and the French were quietly giggling away in their pre-match preparations.
On that faithful day Ireland paid no respect to French reputation and this is exactly how they should approach tomorrow’s game as they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The odds of them winning the championship are stacked against them and while miracles can, and do, happen, I think this French side have too much class to slip up.