Too early for talk of title decider? Farrell plots Ireland masterclass in France

Both nations began the championship with bonus-point wins.
Too early for talk of title decider? Farrell plots Ireland masterclass in France

By Ed Elliot, PA

France and Ireland resume their respective Guinness Six Nations title bids with Saturday’s crunch clash in Paris.

Les Bleus began the tournament by recovering from a slow start to see off Italy, while Ireland are seeking a 10th consecutive Test win after brushing aside reigning champions Wales.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points ahead of a mouth-watering meeting at Stade de France.

Title decider?

Title talk may seem a tad early given it is only week two of the tournament but there is already a feeling this game could go a long way to deciding the outcome of this year’s Six Nations. Understandably so. Both teams recorded stunning autumn wins over the All Blacks and have earned plenty of admirers for their respective brands of exciting, attacking rugby. While silverware is likely to be far from the minds of coaches and players at this stage, the victors will certainly become red-hot favourites for championship glory.

Sexton absence opens door for Carbery

Joey Carbery
Joey Carbery steps up in the absence of Johnny Sexton (Brian Lawless/PA)

The headline news from Thursday’s team announcements was the injury absence of influential Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton. A hamstring strain for the 36-year-old has handed Joey Carbery a maiden Six Nations start and was no doubt a welcome boost for Les Bleus. Munster fly-half Carbery, who has endured an injury nightmare in recent years, impressed when deputising for Sexton in November. Yet he goes into arguably the biggest game of his career with last weekend’s 16-minute cameo against Wales his only action since fracturing an elbow in December.

Power of the packs

Andy Farrell
Andy Farrell is backing the pack (Brian Lawless/PA)

France have been able to overpower Ireland up front before. Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthie is seemingly planning on doing it again after loading his bench with six forwards. However, the Irish look far better equipped to deal with that threat than in previous years. They possess a potent – and relatively settled – pack of their own, plus plenty in reserve, including Iain Henderson returning among the replacements. Andy Farrell has urged his players to retain composure and focus on their own game, rather than ‘fall into the trap’ of becoming preoccupied with the physicality of the French.

World Cup warm-up

Stade de France
The stage is set at Stade de France (David Davies/PA)

Ireland’s visit to Stade de France comes ahead of up to five World Cup games at the same venue next year. Injured skipper Sexton this week spoke of kick-starting a winning habit at the stadium. In order to do that, the Irish must win on French soil for the first time since the Grand Slam campaign of 2018 and improve their underwhelming recent away record. While head coach Farrell has registered 15 wins from 20 Tests at the helm, 14 of those successes have come in Dublin. To date, last year’s routine victory in Rome and narrow success at Murrayfield are the only triumphs from six games on the road during the Englishman’s tenure.

Battle of the number nines

Antoine Dupont
Antoine Dupont is France’s main man to fear (Brian Lawless/PA)

Quick ball is key to the ambitions of both countries. In scrum-half Antoine Dupont, France have the reigning world player of the year and undisputed master of the art. Ireland’s rapid progression has been underpinned by the emergence of New Zealand-born Jamison Gibson-Park, who has become increasingly influential in that role to sideline the experienced Conor Murray. With neutrals hoping a free-flowing, expansive contest is on the cards, the battle of the number nines is likely to have a major bearing on the outcome.

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