Ireland will go head 2 head with France in the second round of the Six Nations on Sunday, in Dublin. Of course, the match will be played without fans.
France is coming off a 40 point win in Rome, yet another match in which the French played some great rugby. Les Bleus have vastly improved under head coach Fabien Galthie, having reached the final of the Autumn Nations Cup in November – a tournament they should have won against England if not for an error by the ref. Right now the French are the clear cut favorites to win this whole thing, and a win today would be huge in their quest to lift the trophy.
Ireland put on a solid showing in the first week against Wales, despite losing that match. It was a close 16-21 defeat on the road, against a good team, and with Ireland playing almost the entire match with 14 man (O’Mahony sent off early) – that was the most impressive thing. Nevertheless, the Irish haven’t been particularly special lately, and they are also dealing with a flurry of injuries.
Team news & lineups:
Ireland has been hit by the injury bug, with a few crucial pieces set to miss the game: Sexton, Murray, O’Mahony or Ryan. France is still without Ntamack, but Jalibert has been stellar at No.10, and there are no new injury concerns for Les Bleus.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Iain Henderson (c), 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (c), 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Ireland missing a number of key players is worrisome for them, but playing without their playmaking duet of Sexton and Murray will be a particular massive blow. These two world class players have run this team together for years, and missing both will hurt the Irish a lot: don’t be surprised if their offense will look confused at times. At this level, with the margins so tight, it will be hard to overcome this problem.
The French are as good as they have ever been in the last decade. In fact, better. Against a weakened Irish team which is not in great form, with no fans in the stands to urge their heroes on, you have to feel Les Bleus have a big opportunity here.
Another notable thing for the visitors is that they have traditionally been very strong against Ireland. Yes, Ireland won 6 of the last 8 games, but in this timespan the Irish were a much better team (which is not the case anymore). Even so, the Irish struggled in almost all their victories. I don’t have official data, but they covered the spread maybe once or twice in these 8 games – that tells us they always performed below expectations against the French. In the last meeting, France denied Ireland the 2020 Six Nations Championship with a 35-27 win in Paris.
France is healthier, is playing better, and has an advantage in terms of matchup. They should win this. Prediction: Ireland – France 18 – 28.