Ireland v France: All eyes on Aviva as world's top two collide in Six Nations

Derek Daly, like every other Irish fan, is worried about peaking too soon in a World Cup year
Ireland v France: All eyes on Aviva as world's top two collide in Six Nations

Ireland’s Conor Murray, Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne must move on from win over Wales to a French test. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

HISTORY will be made at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, when Ireland host France, as for the first time in Six Nations history we get to witness a meeting of the number one and two nations in the world with respect to the world rankings.

In itself that stat counts for little, but it does show that in the year of a northern hemisphere World Cup that the balance of power lies very much north of the equator at present.

The likes of New Zealand and South Africa will be looking to make a mockery of those rankings come September, but right now Ireland and France are rugby’s alphas, with the winner of this one likely to end up winning a Grand Slam come March.


Currently, Ireland’s squad health and form almost seem too good to be true. Irish fans got burnt this time four years ago when Joe Schmidt’s side went from being world No. 1 to a busted flush almost overnight as they entered World Cup year.

Everyone is half expecting the balloon to burst at any moment, but with every game you sense that this time it is different, that this time Andy Farrell’s side are destined to maintain this momentum right into the World Cup in France later this year.

Saturday will be a huge test of this notion, as it very much feels like a meeting of equals.

Last year, France and Ireland were miles ahead of the other four nations in this competition.

France won the Grand Slam, just about edging Ireland by 30-24 in an arm wrestle in Paris, but the nearest any other country got to Ireland was England when they lost by 17 points at home at Twickenham.

Scotland could yet prove to be the fly in the ointment, but this year does feel like a two-horse race.

Those world rankings do not lie.

Wales will have been extremely unhappy with having conceded 13 penalties last Saturday, as that kind of indiscipline ultimately presented Ireland with the platform to secure a comfortable 24 point win in Cardiff.

With that in mind France must be extremely worried as they travel to Dublin this week, as they conceded even more penalties than Wales last weekend, with a huge 18 penalties being conceded against Italy in their narrow victory in Rome.

French head coach Fabien Galthie will be fully aware that if his side are as indisciplined on Saturday they will come a-cropper.

With Tadhg Furlong out again it gives Finlay Bealham yet another opportunity to start at this level and show Andy Farrell that he can be relied upon in huge games, should the need arise at the World Cup.

Ireland’s Andrew Porter and Mack Hansen celebrate beating Wales. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland’s Andrew Porter and Mack Hansen celebrate beating Wales. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

With question marks also surrounding some of the scrummaging technique of loose head Andrew Porter in Cardiff the scrum is an obvious area where France will go after Ireland, with the 25-stone man-mountain Uini Antonio and the experienced Cyril Baille likely to fully test their credentials this weekend.

Italy conceded a considerable amount of kgs to the French and they did OK last week, so the French can certainly be got at too.

The one area where the French might hold the upper hand on Ireland is on the bench.

Ireland may have won comfortably last weekend, but if they were chasing the game then the bench that they had in Cardiff did not fill you with confidence in terms of being able to chase a game.

On the other hand, France seem to be building their own version of the ‘Bomb squad’ as their backup, even with the likes of Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Cameron Woki and Peato Mauvaka all out injured, so the hope would be that Ireland can hit the ground running as they did last weekend, and build an early healthy lead.

Another area that will have worried Galthie is the joy that Italy experienced from keeping the ball in play and moving the big French pack around the pitch in Rome, making the French have to make 169 tackles overall, as suddenly having multiple forwards north of the 20 stone mark goes against you when these juggernauts need to get around the pitch.

Tiring them out and negating their power advantage will ensure Ireland goes a long way toward victory this weekend.

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