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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Match Preview: Ireland v France

Match Preview: Ireland v France

The carrot for Ireland is huge. Win and book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals, win and end a run of five successive defeats to France, win and put those lacklustre performances against Namibia and Georgia to bed. It is time to make history and chalk up only Ireland’s second victory in Paris since 1972.

2007 RUGBY WORLD CUP – POOL D: Friday, September 21

FRANCE v IRELAND, Stade de France, 8pm Irish time/9pm local time (live TV3/UTV/Setanta Sports)

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This is a match of seismic proportions for both teams, so much to gain and so much to lose. For World Cup hosts France, their tournament hinges on this result – lose and their chances of making the last-eight are gone, but win and the momentum built up by last weekend’s 87-10 thrashing of Namibia will ominously increase.

For Eddie O’Sullivan’s Ireland side, this is the night to kickstart their World Cup campaign in its truest sense. The opportunity is there, after two below par outings, to reach out and take Pool D by the scruff of the neck. The chance to atone for allowing France hit back at them late to such devastating effect at Croke Park in February is staring Brian O’Driscoll and his team-mates in the face.

Will they take it? It is just too hard to tell before kick-off. Ask me twenty minutes into the fray and we will all have a better idea about how the biggest game of some players’ career will pan out.

If France are allowed to get out of their starting blocks first and build up a lead, no doubt cheered to the rafters by their knowledgeable yet fickle fans, then Ireland’s goose will be cooked. We have seen too many Irish sides fall behind early on in the cauldron of Paris to think that O’Sullivan’s charges can triumph if a similar fate befalls them.

Even the quality and precision of the rugby which Ireland produced to come from 43-3 behind and whittle France’s lead down to 43-31 on their last visit to the Stade de France failed to erase the frustrating fact that les Bleus built up such a sizeable lead – scoring six tries in 48 frantic minutes.

Ireland simply cannot afford to let France out of their sight. Borrowing a leaf out of Argentina’s book, Ireland will have to build a defensive wall at close quarters and out wide to spread the seed of doubt in French minds.

A solidified set piece, an area where France will look to have the edge, and some talismanic performances from key men like O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara, who needs a quick return to his Six Nations form, will allow Ireland gain a foothold and look to their own attacking options, of which there are plenty.

This week’s video analysis will have pinpointed a number of ploys which can be used to expose the weaknesses in this French team – their mental fragility, their back three’s unease under the high ball, particularly full-back Clement Poitrenaud, the poor defence of out-half Frederic Michalak, their over reliance on Sebastien Chabal to inspire and the fact that a number of their better players in recent matches – Dimitri Szarzewski, Lionel Nallet and Aurelien Rougerie, who is one of the hardest runners to stop in world rugby – are sitting on the bench tonight.

Yannick Jauzion’s exclusion, considering how he has played in recent seasons against Ireland, is a little baffling and it would seem French coach Bernard Laporte is relying on David Marty and Vincent Clerc, two try scorers in the 2006 and 2007 Six Nations clashes between these sides, to do the business once again. But if Ireland can get most of their players playing near or at their peak, which is certainly possible in what is such a once-off cup final-style game, then the underdogs can pull off the most unlikely of World Cup wins.

If they were not fired up for this tie before, this week’s attacks in the French media on the character of both O’Gara and O’Sullivan will have the men in green pumped up to the gills for kick-off.

There are a number of intriguing head-to-heads around the pitch, none more so than the battle at number 9 between France’s goal-kicking scrum half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Ireland’s second Heineken Cup-winning pivot Eoin Reddan, who has been selected ahead of Peter Stringer and Isaac Boss.

Ireland struggled for possession against both Namibia and Georgia and Reddan and his pack know exactly what they have to do against the French. The familiarity of playing France is another bonus for Ireland and France’s scratchy knowledge of the fast-breaking Reddan should also be exposed.

In the lineout, Ireland look to have the better options and if they can profit from using the new patterns they have up their sleeves, it could be advantage Ireland in that vital area.

Ireland’s two other changes from last weekend’s win over Georgia – Andrew Trimble on the left wing and Jerry Flannery at hooker – seem ideal for this game. Both players thrive on the big game occasion and will hope to get the better of their individual battles.

Whatever about how Ireland or the hosts play, the result, as in every sport, is all that matters. Looking back at Ireland’s victories over the French, few have been by more than a converted try. Expect something similar if Ireland are to prosper tonight. If they play to their potential, they will.

Recent Meetings:

2007 Six Nations – February 11, 2007: Ireland 17 France 20, Croke Park
2006 Six Nations – February 11, 2006: France 43 Ireland 31, Stade de France
2005 Six Nations – March 12, 2005: Ireland 19 France 26, Lansdowne Road
2004 Six Nations – February 14, 2004: France 35 Ireland 17, Stade de France
2003 World Cup Quarter-Final – November 9, 2003: France 43 Ireland 21, Telstra Dome
2003 Six Nations – March 8, 2003: Ireland 15 France 12, Lansdowne Road
2002 Six Nations – April 6, 2002: France 44 Ireland 5, Stade de France
2001 Six Nations – February 17, 2001: Ireland 22 France 15, Lansdowne Road
2000 Six Nations – March 19, 2000: France 25 France 27, Stade de France
1999 Five Nations – February 6, 1999: Ireland 9 France 10, Lansdowne Road

France: Clement Poitrenaud; Vincent Clerc, David Marty, Damien Traille, Cedric Heymans; Frederic Michalak, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde; Olivier Milloud, Raphael Ibanez (capt), Pieter de Villiers, Sebastien Chabal, Jerome Thion, Serge Betsen, Thierry Dusautoir, Julien Bonnaire.

Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Lionel Nallet, Yannick Nyanga, Lionel Beauxis, Yannick Jauzion, Aurelien Rougerie.

Ireland: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Ronan O’Gara, Eoin Reddan; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Simon Easterby, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.

Replacements: Frankie Sheahan, Simon Best, Malcolm O’Kelly, Neil Best, Isaac Boss, Paddy Wallace, Gavin Duffy.

Referee: Chris White (England)
Touch Judges: Dave Pearson (England), Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Television Match Official: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)