Ireland coach Andy Farrell has pinpointed Les Bleus as the perfect example for his emerging squad, underlining the test should excite his group: “I suppose to get to be those experienced players they have to deal with situations like this,” Farrell said of his stand-in half-backs Billy Burns and Jamison Gibson-Park. “That’s the challenge of international rugby. If you want a long and fruitful international career, these are the games that you want to be involved in.
“Those young lads that have come into the French side have taken their chance and now they are becoming more experienced as they go. We’re playing at home and we love playing at home, and there’s no better opponent really than the team you guys (the media) are tipping as favourites. Why would we not get excited about that? They are raring to go, every single one of them that has been selected.”
Follow live updates from the Aviva in Dublin in what promises to be a wonderful game of rugby.
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Pre-match weather check
Reports from the ground seem to indicate that the weather has settled down a bit after some stiff showers blew through with a little sting earlier. Let’s hope for a dry afternoon, some attacking ball and a chance to see two exciting backlines play.
The players are beginning to assemble themselves in the tunnel…
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:50
15 minutes until kick-off…
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:45
Battle in the back row
Having lost Peter O’Mahony, the remaining members of the Irish back row stepped up with tireless showings against Wales. Aided by auxiliary blindside Tadhg Beirne (equally comfortable at either spot and very, very good in Cardiff), CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier got through a heck of a lot of work, both the glamorous stuff and the dirty.
They will be boosted by the presence of another workhorse in Rhys Ruddock alongside them today. They will need to be at their best to combat France’s trio, the influential captain Charles Ollivon and the multitudinous threat of Gregory Alldritt particularly.
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:43
Right, I’ve managed the best part of 45 minutes without mention of France’s magnificent scrum-half, but it is time for another gush about Antoine Dupont. He was everywhere and everything for France last week: creator and scorer; dancer and dasher; controlling general and maverick attacking force.
When a scrum-half as good as Aaron Smith is tweeting something like this, you know Dupont is a little bit special:
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:38
League to union – Edwards against Farrell
Broadcasters ITV are currently running a fine video package looking at the similar journeys taken by Shaun Edwards, France’s defence coach, and Andy Farrell from league to union, with the thoughts of their former Wigan team mate Jason Robinson. Edwards’ impact on this France side has been hailed, and though their defence was a little leaky against Italy last week, his influence extends beyond his structures. The culture in this French side appears to be much improved.
These two are rather familiar with each other in union, now, regularly direct counterparts when Farrell was the defence coach of first England and then Ireland and Edwards was with Wales. It’s a little wet and a little windy at the Aviva Stadium – though pleasingly about ten degrees warmer than at Twickenham or Murrayfield yesterday – so those defences will be key.
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:35
What about this Ireland side?
Andy Farrell has been dealt a rough hand. Ireland were the better side in Cardiff last Sunday despite going down to 14 players in the first half, but Wales showed grit, guts and just enough quality to edge to a victory. That red card to Peter O’Mahony led to a ban; failed HIAs during the match have ruled out Johnny Sexton and James Ryan.
To compllicate matters further, Conor Murray’s injury means Farrell has been forced to plump for an untested duo in the halves, and Ireland are without a regular domestic kicker – Billy Burns is more than capable from the tee and will presumably handle duties, but John Cooney kicks the goals at Ulster. It is both a huge chance and a significant challenge for Iain Henderson as the stand-in for the stand-in for the stand-in captain, but most of Ireland’s players are playing winning rugby for their clubs, and if they can get on the front foot they can match this France side. I thought both Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose were excellent last week – they will again be key.
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:28
Favourites both today and for the tournament, this could be a huge afternoon for this French side. A statement away victory is something they perhaps require to really assert their place at the head of the Six Nations pack, and with Ireland not at full-strength, a win delivered with real emphasis is a possibility if they get things right. It is cliche to say the French don’t always travel well, and this group has largely proved expectations wrong in the last 18 months or so.
A win today of any sort would take them back to the top of the table heading into the first fallow week.
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:21
Team News – France
There are no such worries for Fabien Galthie and France – their two alterations are selection-based. It seems harsh on both Dylan Cretin and Teddy Thomas after each impressed a week ago, but Anthony Jelonch’s ability to compete and clearout at the breakdown is useful against this Ireland side, while Damian Penaud’s angular frame and long limbs add extra threat in the open field.
A reshuffling of bench props allows a return for the enormous Uini Atonio, and look out for Racing 92’s young loosehead Hassane Kolingar who is in line for a third cap.
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:16
Team News – Ireland
No Johnny Sexton, no Conor Murrray, no James Ryan, no Peter O’Mahony – Ireland are shorn of four key players, and four key leaders.
Iain Henderson is among those to come in and takes the captaincy in the second row, while Rhys Ruddock is rewarded for some outstanding Leinster form with a place at six. Jamison Gibson-Park added zip from the bench against Wales last week but this is a different challenge as he starts. Billy Burns is his half-back partner, hoping to put a tough moment behind him.
A debut from the bench for Craig Casey, a scrum half of real promise, awaits.
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:12
Runners and riders
Sufficiently caught up? Great – let’s take a closer look at the two sets of 23 named by Andy Farrell and Fabien Galthie today, beginning with the Ireland side…
Harry Latham-Coyle14 February 2021 14:04