Six Nations Key Clash Preview: France v Ireland

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Against all logic, if not quite all odds, France are still in with a shout of winning the Six Nations Championship. They have impressed precisely no one with their performances and yet, coming into the final game of the tournament against Ireland in Paris, they have played four, won three. Somehow. So they could yet maintain that weird record of winning the Six Nations tournament that follows a Lions tour.

France

It’s surely no surprise that Philippe Saint-Andre has rung the changes after last weekend’s limp to victory at Murrayfield. Among the seven changes he has made, Louis Picamoles comes back from purdah but will play at blindside, while Dimitri Szarzewski returns to the starting line-up, with Brice Mach dropping out of the squad altogether following his Edinburgh nightmare.

Another player paying the price for poor performances is fly-half Jules Plisson. He’s also out of the squad. His place has been taken by Castres’ Remi Tales, with Jean-Marc Doussain on the bench ready to replace either him or Maxime Machenaud at nine. Gael Fickou finally gets a starting slot, too, at 12, alongside Mathieu Bastareaud.

Despite all the changes, most of them strangely logical for Philippe Saint-André, the big question remains: is there really method in this French team’s apparent rugby madness? Ongoing rumours of a rift in the French camp suggest not – Nicolas Mas stormed out of a press conference on Tuesday when one journalist asked if Les Bleus were playing badly on purpose.

But Ireland’s assistant coach Les Kiss claims there could well be. He called it, with typically wonderful Irish lyricism, “a dishevelled place of chaos”, but argues that a meticulous “forensic” examination of the frankly frantic and bonkers French play reveals a gameplan designed to look shambolic but that actually offers plenty of attacking options.

Wouldn’t it be just so typically French for Les Bleus to slip the shackles on the final day of the Six Nations and play in the manner we like to imagine French teams played against every other team but the one we’re rooting for?

Ireland

Let’s start with some good news: Leinster battering ram Cian Healy has recovered from an ankle injury and will play on Saturday. Peter O’Mahony also returns after his troublesome hamstring forced him to sit out the Ireland game.

Ireland have been the team to watch this Six Nations. They have played some truly astonishing rugby at times, and it is for this reason that the temptation to make other changes – such as bringing in Simon Zebo or Tommy Bowe, as has been called for in some quarters – has been avoided.

Now some bad news: history is against the Irish. They haven’t actually won in France since 2000. They have only won four games in Paris since the Second World War; and their only win in their last 14 encounters was on that remarkable day in Dublin in 2009, when Brian O’Driscoll (who else?) and Gordon D’Arcy had the Irish daring to believe their first Grand Slam in 60 years was within reach.

All eyes on

No contest. Brian O’Driscoll. It seems somehow fitting that arguably the best centre the rugby world has ever seen makes his final bow on the same stage where he came of age with that remarkable hat-trick of tries back in 2000. It will be his 133rd appearance for the Irish and his 141st international. Will he be able to add to his tally of 46 tries? Wouldn’t that – and one final Six Nations title – be the perfect way to end a career?

Not quite opposite him but in the same vicinity, Gael Fickou is finally trusted to start for France. He may be just 19, but seemed the most natural successor to Fofana when he got injured. Naturally, then, he was overlooked, and it took another abject international performance from Maxime Mermoz for Saint-André to seemingly realise his mistake, and he now starts in the final game of the tournament. Do not be fooled by his youth; Fickou has performed on the big stage before.

Head to head: Brian O’Driscoll v Mathieu Bastareaud

BOD may well have hoped for a less combative opponent to face in his farewell international than France’s blunt instrument. But Bastareaud is who he has got. He has faced better, if not necessarily bigger, centres before, and while the O’Driscoll legs aren’t quite as fleet as they used to be, the rugby brain is still plenty quick enough to find a way round the larger-than-life French centre.

Prediction

This one is so difficult to call. Although Ireland’s dismal record in Paris shouldn’t play on anyone’s minds, it will. But it’s also BOD’s final fling. The Irish team, the country and many a neutral would love to see him sign off with another championship title to his name.

Assuming England do their bit and win in Rome, France will need to find a way through the well-drilled Irish defence and rack up a cricket score if they are to steal the Six Nations title from under everyone’s noses.

That’s surely beyond this French team, who have yet to play full game of rugby. In fact, beating this Ireland side should be beyond this French team, let alone scoring lots of points while doing so. That said, if the unthinkable does happen and England do come a cropper in Rome, all bets are off… Ireland by 3.

By James Harrington (@blackmountained)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

13 thoughts on “Six Nations Key Clash Preview: France v Ireland

  1. “Nicolas Mas stormed out of a press conference on Tuesday when one journalist asked if Les Bleus were playing badly on purpose.”

    Think Mas realises he is in for a hiding – new laws don’t suit him – while the opposite is true for Healy.

    DDD

  2. How France start is critical, the crowd got right behind them against England so I’m hoping same happens again. If Ireland start well and France continue with their away form I expect gallows to be wheeled onto the pitch at half time and PSA to be led to them.

  3. BOD played well in his last game prior to that it was obvious that time was catching up with him. Take a look at the World rankings and then look who are playing at home. Take on board Ireland,s pathetic record against Les Blues. England will win the Championship and in all probability deserve to do so despite all the Irish hype. England did after all beat the Irish didn,t they. Only one result get yer cash on the French to beat Ireland and double up with an English 6 Nations.

    1. I hope you put your house on that one! Rugby obviously isn’t your sport – why don’t you try horse racing? It’s a mugs game – you would do well there with your intellect.

      DDD

  4. You are the mug ding dong merrily – I am a bookmaker and by taking my predictions (as a tipster) both on this site and many others I managed to make a large large packet. More than enough to fill your stupid hat. You poor sucker – another one bites the dust. By the way I have horses in training – in fact one just won at Cheltenham and backed at long odds ante post to win over a hundred grand.

    1. What a clever ploy. Everyone who read that post by you probably put money on France. And in your bookies I’d imagine.

      And you mugged them off. By cleverly lying on a post.

      You knew Ireland were going to win all along.

      Can you give me more advice on bets so I can do the opposite? I wont fall for your clever tactics mr.bookmaker.

  5. Yeah! and I’m Barney Curley! I’d eat you for breakfast.

    Glad to see your eyes fail you like your tips – That’s Warren Gatland’s Hat – you sucker. Oh Sorry! – I forgot you are not good on rugby – He is the coach of Wales.

    DDD

  6. To be honest B I don’t think any of the contributors to this site would take this fools advice – they are too knowledgeable on rugby. Sure the fool thinks DDD, a proud Irishman would have bet against Ireland!! What a gobshite!

    DDD

  7. Hi Dingle Dangle, I am a mate of Al,s and run one of his betting shops on Merseyside. What a mug he has made of you. All your silly comments and of course stupid hat pic. have been posted on our walls both here and in our North Lancs. shops with the heading “dxxk of the month” – he has taken you for a real ride and you are STILL falling for it. Hold your hands up and admit it – you lost hands down. Suggest you leave it alone – otherwise it could well appear on you tube.

    1. Sammy Davies JNR,

      You are not a mate – you are a lackey who is licking up to his boss.

      DDD

  8. Hi Sam, Absolutely first class – I didn,t really intend the guy to go on the “Dxxk” of the month board but come to think of it you got it right. Jimmy P says he posted it up first. I have a better one planned for today,s meeting at Southwell. Watch out Dingle Foot.

    1. Gee busy day heading up your empire then. Why don’t you get all the rest of your David Brents to massage your ego and make me Dick of the year.

      Gobshite

      DDD

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