Ireland welcome France to the Aviva Stadium in Round Four of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations and for both sides, this Championship is still very much alive.
Joe Schmidt’s side are the defending Grand Slam champions, who have bounced back from their opening-day defeat in Dublin to England, and are still in contention for the crown.
Back-to-back wins in Edinburgh and Rome have kept them in the game and they return home with wind in their sails.
France also arrive with optimism renewed following their impressive win over Scotland last time out and mathematically at least, their Championship hopes are still alive for now.
By the time battle commences on Sunday, that could all have changed but Jacques Brunel’s entire matchday 23 is unchanged for the first time in his tenure.
That means Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont remain as the fresh-faced half-back pairing while the third Toulousain in the back three, Thomas Ramos, will be keen to find his goalkicking boots in Dublin.
In contrast, it is all change for Ireland this weekend as they return to the tried and trusted after the experiment up front against the Azzurri.
The front row reunites Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong either side of skipper Rory Best, James Ryan and Iain Henderson return to the second row and Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander return alongside Peter O’Mahony in the back row.
The backline is largely unchanged from the one that won in Rome, try-scorers Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale remain on the wing but Garry Ringrose comes into midfield in place of Chris Farrell.
It took a last-gasp Jonathan Sexton drop goal to separate these two sides last year in Paris, let’s hope for an equally dramatic finish one year on.
WHAT THEY SAID
France head coach Jacques Brunel: “I’m expecting a lot from the team. Ireland are able to play at great speed but we have talented players who can compete with this team and they performed well against Scotland.
“Italy gave Ireland a great battle and we hope to be able to offer them the resistance and ambition that we showed in the last match.
“I am looking for our younger players to progress in every game. They have shown a lot of calm against Scotland but this will be another test.
“We need to be more consistent and be able to reproduce what we did against Scotland
“The context of this match will be different and I hope our pack will put the half-backs in good positions.”
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt: “It’s great to have CJ (Stander) back, James Ryan, Rory Best, those guys who have been rested from the last game.
“I think we were always going to spread the load across the Guinness Six Nations which is a bit different to what we’ve done in the past.
“We’ve probably got a slightly different brief this Championship as much as we want to stay right in the mix.
“There’s an opportunity this Sunday to stay in the mix and we’re desperately keen to do that.
“There were some guys who would have been disappointed with their performances against Italy and at the same time Ultan Dillane, for example, pressed his claim.”
KEY BATTLE – CONOR MURRAY V ANTOINE DUPONT
The scrum-half match-up will make for fascinating watching this weekend.
It is a contrast in styles, the master manager Conor Murray who looks to be returning to some of his best form after some injury struggles against the livewire Antoine Dupont.
Dupont has been one of the finds of this year’s Championship for Les Bleus and starts for the second game in a row.
But Murray has been there and done it all before, he’s scored twice against France before in his international career including in this fixture back in 2017.
- Ireland’s side shows only one change from the starting XV that won in Paris last year
- France have not won in Dublin since 2011
- Ireland have only scored one try in the last four meetings between the two teams
- Defending champions Ireland have scored nine tries, one every 26.7 minutes, while France have dotted down seven times (one every 34.3 minutes)
- Jacques Brunel’s side will need to tighten up at the back if they are to stand a chance, however, having conceded ten tries so far to leave them second from bottom in those standings
|IRELAND||HEAD TO HEAD||FRANCE|
2018: Ireland won 15-13 in Paris
2017: Ireland won 19-09 in Dublin
2016: France won 10-09 in Paris
2015: Ireland won 24-09 in Cardiff (RWC)
2015: Ireland won 18-11 in Dublin
2014: Ireland won 22-20 in Paris
2013: The sides drew 13-13 in Dublin
2012: The sides drew 17-17 in Paris
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Jack Conan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Jordan Larmour
France: Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Yoann Huget, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont, Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (c), Demba Bamba, Felix Lambey, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Wenceslas Lauret, Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles
Replacements: Camille Chat, Etienne Falgoux, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Willemse, Gregory Alldritt, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Belleau, Maxime Medard
Date: Sunday, March 10
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)