Ireland have it all to do if they are to stop the French juggernaut in Paris this Saturday!

Although it’s so early in the day, Round 2 to be precise, it’s hard to not look at Saturday’s clash in Paris as a possible Championship decider. There is little doubt that both teams are red hot at the moment. However, before we all get too carried away, let’s put it in perspective. As good as Ireland and France looked last weekend, they were playing the two sides who will most likely be duking it out for the Wooden Spoon this year – Italy and Wales. To be honest, a shock win for Italy given their resistance against France last Sunday is not beyond the realms of possibility. Had France and Ireland played either Scotland or England and wiped the floor with them last Saturday, then perhaps we would be more akin to the idea of entertaining an early Championship decider. A contest of epic proportions awaits, of that there is no question, but a tournament clincher at this stage – not quite.

Ireland’s performance against a clearly faltering Welsh side last Saturday, was impressive, clinical and played at 300 miles an hour. However, it wasn’t perfect as both Coach Andy Farrell and his charges are keenly aware of. Ireland should in reality have put at least another 12 points on the Welsh last weekend. At times the weather didn’t help and this is an Irish side on fire but one which is still fine tuning its processes, while at the same time finessing some rather extraordinary new talent into the establishment.

As for France, they got off to their usual rusty start at the beginning of every Six Nations tournament. Italy had come to play and were not overly daunted by the calibre of their opponents or the deafening cauldron that a packed Stade de France provided. France’s All Stars struggled to impose themselves on the courageous Italians until the end of the first half. Much like Ireland they should have put at least 10 more points on the scoreboard. However, the engine was clearly purring by the end of the game, even if it hadn’t quite reached the full throttle roar it will need come this Saturday afternoon.

While we remain slightly skeptical of this game being billed as a Championship decider so early in the proceedings, it will without a doubt be one of the most important games of this year’s Six Nations. On that note here’s what got us talking about the potential matchups.

Two of the best at their trade and who will have a very large say in how the game unfolds

France’s Julien Marchand and Ireland’s Ronan Kelleher are rapidly becoming two of the best Hookers in the International game

Dynamic is the word that most often comes to mind when describing the centerpieces of France and Ireland’s front rows. Kelleher may be part of the more fearsome unit, but Marchand’s abilities are so impressive that he can almost carry the front row on his own. What the two have in common is their lightning quick abilities in the loose. Two very powerful ball carriers who excel in open play and pose a constant threat at the breakdowns. Marchand is central to French defense Coach Shaun Edwards’ plans while Kelleher is a brilliant jackaler of the ball. Their respective roles in ensuring who dominates the set pieces as well as getting invaluable go forward momentum will be key as to how Saturday’s game unfolds and who has the edge. Given Kelleher’s skills especially with ball in hand, we’re giving the Irishman the slight edge here, but make no mistake this will be one of the most important contests on the park in Paris on Saturday.

A clash of Titans

Two of the very best in the modern game go head to head in the shape of France and Ireland’s number 8s – Gregory Alldritt and Jack Conan

Make sure you book yourself a front row seat to watch these two remarkable players have at it on Saturday in Paris. There is very little to choose between them, and in our humble opinion there is nobody to equal them in this year’s Six Nations. Both were immense last year in their respective sides’ victories over New Zealand. Their discipline is exemplary and in terms of driving their teams forward you couldn’t ask for better. Two very technical and highly skilled players who do all the unsung work that is so crucial to establishing forward dominance. However, for us the Frenchman has the edge, and leads the two in all the statistics. They both get through the same amount of work, but somehow Alldritt just consistently pulls the higher numbers overall when comparing their seasons so far with one glaring exception – the games against New Zealand. Against the All Blacks the Irishman scored the higher numbers, as impressive as both players were in their respective matches and victories over said fabled opponent. In short, for such a big game you couldn’t ask for two better players and the contest between the two of them on Saturday is likely to have you glued to your TV screens.

A slow start but don’t let it fool you!

Antoine Dupont was clearly recovering from his bout with COVID, but by the end of the match against Italy there was no doubt that he will have spooled up nicely for Ireland

To be honest we were surprised to see French wonder scrum half Dupont feature in last weekend’s match against Italy. Having just recovered from Covid, we had doubts about his match fitness, and thought it an excellent opportunity to blood some depth for France in the position. Given the fact that Italy were able to lead France a merry dance at times, perhaps it was just as well that the pocket sized dynamo was there to restore order. It was clear to see though that at times the game was taking a toll on him physically and overall France’s superstar was not quite up to his usual mesmerizing standard. However, by game end he looked to have found his feet again and Ireland will need to be on their guard. As Sexton is to Ireland, “le petit general” is key to how well France fare on the big occasions.

A vital step on the road to life without Jonny

As valuable as Jonathan Sexton was to getting Ireland off to a dream start last weekend, Joey Carberry’s biggest start to date in an Irish jersey is equally important to Ireland’s long term plans especially with a view to the World Cup

Irish fly half and legend Jonathan Sexton was at the top of his game against Wales last weekend, despite a few goalkicking foibles. The arguments about his age were well and truly buried once more as the veteran provided yet another brilliant example of game management. However, the arguments about Ireland’s depth in the 10 jersey still linger on and Sexton’s inevitable brush with injury this week during training have made it all the more pressing. As good as Sexton is there is no guarantee he will escape injury during the course of the tournament and more importantly in the runup to the World Cup. Consequently the need to develop a reliable and consistent understudy of equal caliber has never been more pressing.

Ireland are likely to feel the loss of Sexton this Saturday in Paris, but it is a golden opportunity for Joey Carberry to resume where he left off in his bid to be the Leinster legend’s successor. To start against France who are most likely going to be your biggest threat in this year’s campaign is the ultimate Test, and if Carberry can pull it off it will stand him in excellent stead for England and Scotland should the stretcher bearers get a hold of Sexton again later in the tournament. Carberry has battled injury problems of his own, and as a result Connacht’s Jack Carty awaits on the bench. For us this is an equally important opportunity for Ireland. Given Carberry’s propensity for injury Ireland need a Plan B and if Carty can replicate his form for Connacht then Ireland could perhaps finally start to think of a “life without Jonny” when it eventually comes to pass.

As a debut it doesn’t get much better than last weekend – but now the real test begins!

Irish winger Mack Hansen had the dream debut against Wales, but France and Damian Penaud will be a completely different beast that will really determine if the Australian import is the real deal

We were blown away by Mack Hansen’s debut in an Irish jersey last weekend against Wales. It wasn’t just good it was spectacular, and a bit like Scotland’s Darcy Graham the man was everywhere, and at times seemed just as comfortable in the center channels as he did out wide. Great with ball in hand but also capable of some absolutely sublime offloads, Hansen is the most exciting thing to happen to Ireland on the wings since Jacob Stockdale. Ironically, although his dancing feet and silky hands put in a huge shift at the Aviva last Saturday, he scored no tries of his own as he was simply too busy setting up tries for everyone else. This is a really gifted footballer and coupled with Andrew Conway on the other wing, Ireland have an exceptionally potent strike threat out wide. The big Test for Hansen this Saturday will be if he can contain his opposite number the exceptionally elusive Damian Penaud who is arguably one of the best players in the world at the moment gracing the 14 jersey. Saturday’s match may be less about Hansen’s natural razzle dazzle, and more about how well his defensive skills are up to the task of containing the slippery Frenchman, who has proven that he needs only the slightest of gaps in which to carve out huge chunks of real estate for his team.

It’s set to be an absolute thriller with the weather on cue to cooperate and favor two sides who simply love to run the ball at the moment. It’s hard to argue against the odds being slightly tilted in France’s favor at home and against an Irish side missing such a key player as Sexton. Even without Sexton though this is an exceptionally capable Irish outfit that have rediscovered the joy of an open game. Ultimately it will come down to who can channel the power of two bruising forward packs and the pace of two sets of silky backs, and turn it all into points on the scoreboard most effectively. Either way you simply won’t want to miss this one, and we have a hunch that wherever you are on Saturday, it’s one you’ll be catching live as opposed to on demand!!!

Published by Neil Olsen

Passionate about rugby and trying to promote the global game in Canada and North America.

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