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France v Ireland talking points

Published 12/02/2016

France will likely see Ireland's Johnny Sexton as the key threat to try to neutralise
France will likely see Ireland's Johnny Sexton as the key threat to try to neutralise

Ireland will chase a second-successive win in France for the first time in 89 years in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations encounter in Paris.

Here, Press Association Sport examines some of the pivotal battles ahead at the Stade de France.


Captain Rory Best has admitted Ireland were "caught cold" at the scrum in the 16-16 draw with Wales in Dublin last weekend and has vowed there will be no repeat in Paris.

Ireland opted against drafting in fit-again props Cian Healy and Mike Ross for an immediate return to Test colours. Ireland are well enough stocked to cope with Healy's knee issue thanks to Jack McGrath's continued all-round potency. Ross' hamstring problem has been more troublesome however, given Marty Moore is out for the entire tournament with a hamstring issue of his own.

Nathan White struggled against Wales but has a reprieve against France, and must seize that second chance. France sprung a surprise by starting with the inexperienced duo of Jefferson Poirot and Uini Atonio. Powerful replacements Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous are lurking on the bench however, leaving Les Bleus potentially just as potent as ever at the scrum.


Linchpin fly-half Sexton scored two tries and ran the show as Ireland edged home 22-20 in Paris to claim the Six Nations title in 2014, amid Brian O'Driscoll's final Test-match turn.

The 30-year-old has since returned to Leinster from Racing 92, but still remains France's top target when it comes to dishing out the physicality against the Irish.

France's media branded Sexton the 'Zlatan Ibrahimovic of rugby' during the autumn's World Cup. Sexton hobbled out of that clash with an injury that later stopped him featuring in the 43-20 quarter-final defeat to Argentina.

Sexton was in animated mood leading Ireland's team talk at the captain's run at the Stade de France on Friday, underscoring his determination to stick it to the French one more time.

Few would bet against him producing another top-level performance this weekend.


Toulouse scrum-half Sebastien Bezy lost his goal-kicking nerve on his France debut last weekend.

The 24-year-old missed three consecutive shots at goal before handing off kicking duties to fly-half Jules Plisson in the 23-21 victory over Italy in Paris.

Guy Noves has left it up to his playmakers to decide who kicks off the tee, insisting that Bezy will effectively hold first refusal.

Only France's first effort on goal will indicate whether Bezy will be bold or pragmatic then. It could prove a decision to resonate throughout the team.

Stand up to the challenge and Bezy's team-mates may follow, shrink away and let Plisson take charge, and Les Bleus could fold inwards once more.


Full-back Kearney and flanker O'Brien both trained fully on Thursday as Ireland left their team selection down to the very last minute.

Head coach Joe Schmidt broke with his self-imposed protocol to allow Rob Kearney, O'Brien, Johnny Sexton and Simon Zebo every chance to prove their fitness.

Munster flyer Zebo fell foul of his niggling knee problem, but the others came through unscathed.

Sexton of course impressed in the draw with Wales, while Kearney and O'Brien sat out the Dublin encounter, both still battling hamstring trouble.

Two of Ireland's top performers return to action after little more than two full training sessions then.

For many Schmidt would view this insufficient preparation. For Rob Kearney and O'Brien, he has been happy to make the exception that proves the rule.

Ireland will need both men firing from the off to tee up a realistic tilt at victory.


Noves has expressed every faith in Sevens star Virimi Vakatawa's positional sensibilities ahead of facing one of the most exacting tactical kickers in Johnny Sexton this weekend.

Ireland will doubtless attempt to unsettle Fiji-born Vakatawa with a series of high bombs designed to exploit any tactical shortcomings in France's back-three.

Vakatawa's try-scoring debut against Italy was his first game of 15-a-side rugby in almost three years, and the 23-year-old is off to the Rio Olympics with France's Sevens side this summer.

Noves has hardly drafted the explosive runner into his plans for his technical nous - he wants tries from his front-foot threat.

Les Bleus also need stability from their wide men however, and Sexton and Conor Murray will pump the ball high at every opportunity in a bid to squeeze Noves' men into mistakes.

Anything shoddy and France will be in trouble.

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