Ireland enter the final round of the RBS 6 Nations in pole position to lift the trophy in Paris on Saturday. With chief rivals England playing Italy earlier in the day, Joe Schmidt’s men will also know exactly what they need to do come kick-off time at the Stade de France.
RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, March 15
FRANCE (3rd) v IRELAND (1st), Stade de France, 6pm local time/5pm Irish time (live RTÉ Two/BBC One/RTÉ Radio 1/IRFU Live Blog)
Team News: Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has made just one change to the team that will face France in Saturday’s Championship title decider.
Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony has recovered from the hamstring strain that kept him sidelined for the Italy game. He returns at blindside flanker in place of Iain Henderson who reverts to the replacements bench.
Team captain Paul O’Connell wins his 92nd cap and packs down alongside Devin Toner in the second row, behind the Six Nations’ leading front row combination of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross.
Jonathan Sexton will again lead the back-line having put his thumb strain behind him with a fine two-try performance against Italy.
Conor Murray has also fully recovered from the illness that saw him leave the pitch early against the Italians. Brian O’Driscoll, meanwhile, is set to make his 133rd and final appearance for Ireland.
On the bench, Ulster youngster Henderson provides cover for second row with Jordi Murphy covering the back row and Rhys Ruddock dropping out of the matchday 23. Ian Madigan is introduced to the bench in place of Paddy Jackson.
Meanwhile, France boss Philippe Saint-André has made some significant changes to his team for the Paris showdown with Ireland.
There are four personnel changes split between the backs and forwards with the 19-year-old Gaël Fickou coming in for his first Six Nations start – and only his second at Test level.
Fickou will partner Mathieu Bastareaud in the centre with Remi Talès also set for his first Six Nations start, replacing Jules Plisson in the number 10 jersey. Neither Fickou or Talès have faced Ireland before.
Louis Picamoles returns at blindside flanker after being dropped for the win away to Scotland, while Dimitri Szarzewski will hope to improve the French lineout as he takes the hooker berth at the expense of Brice Mach.
Picamoles combines in the starting back row with Clermont Auvergne duo Alexandre Lapandry and Damien Chouly, who have yet to play a Test match against Ireland. Sebastien Vahaamahina is the player to make way.
FRANCE: Brice Dulin (Castres Olympique); Yoann Huget (Stade Toulousain), Mathieu Bastareaud (RC Toulon), Gaël Fickou (Stade Toulousain), Maxime Medard (Stade Toulousain); Remi Talès (Castres Olympique), Maxime Machenaud (Racing Metro 92); Thomas Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing Metro 92), Nicolas Mas (Montpellier), Pascal Papé (Stade Francais) (capt), Yoann Maestri (Stade Toulousain), Louis Picamoles (Stade Toulousain), Alexandre Lapandry (Clermont Auvergne), Damien Chouly (Clermont Auvergne).
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado (USA Perpignan), Vincent Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), Rabah Slimani (Stade Francais), Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Francais), Sebastien Vahaamahina (USA Perpignan), Wenceslas Lauret (Racing Metro 92), Jean-Marc Doussain (Stade Toulousain), Maxime Mermoz (RC Toulon).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster); Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) (capt), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Martin Moore (Lansdowne/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): France to win: 5/4; Draw: 22/1; Ireland to win: 4/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Conor Murray (Ireland) – “It would be huge (to win the Six Nations). We’re a competitive bunch of players. It’s a final and if we lose out on a trophy, it will be bitterly disappointing.
“But we have performed well and we’ve been getting better and better each game. I don’t want to even start talking about losing and where we are as a team. This is a final we’re playing in, and we’re going to win.
“All we can do is look after our corner and hopefully our performance does go up another notch from the previous weeks and we do play well.
“I fully expect France to perform really well. They’re under a bit of pressure, they won’t be happy with how they’ve played in this Six Nations and they’re at home in front of their home crowd in the final game, on a big day.
“So, I think they’re going to be hugely passionate and they’re going to bring a lot to the table. We’ve got to be ready for that. It is going to be huge, especially early on in the first 20 minutes.
“We have huge clarity within our squad at the moment. Every player understands his role pretty much perfectly. Assuming we’re leading, late in the game, we do have plays we can go to that everyone is fully confident in being able to do.
“That’s the thing about our squad at the moment. Joe (Schmidt) has instilled belief in us that if we perform and do our roles properly there is going to be a result at the end of it.”
Philippe Saint-André (France) – “When you realise how many important players are out injured, there are six, seven, eight, and yet we still see this group improving, picking themselves up and still being in a position to win the Six Nations.
“We’re still dreaming about winning, about scoring 15 tries and that everyone’s in a dream.
“But seriously, we’re doing a lot better than last year at this point. Then we had three defeats and a draw, now we have three wins.
“This is going to be a very tough game, but also an exciting one, against a great team.
“Ireland are playing very well and it is the last one for one of the big, big names of international rugby, Brian O’Driscoll. So I think they are favourites to start.
“But my players are focused, we want to finish the Six Nations well. We want to finish with four wins.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2011: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 22 France 25, Aviva Stadium; Rugby World Cup Warm-Up: France 19 Ireland 12, Stade Chaban-Delmas; Rugby World Cup Warm-Up: Ireland 22 France 26, Aviva Stadium
2012: RBS 6 Nations: France 17 Ireland 17, Stade de France
2013: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 13 France 13, Aviva Stadium