The scrum. It was an issue for Ireland in the November series, it was an issue in their narrow win over Italy at the Stadio Flaminio last Saturday and it will be an issue heading forward into the remainder of the Six Nations and onto the World Cup.
The French are coming to town with a scrum that humiliated Scotland, and their renowned tight-head Euan Murray, in the Stade de France. Their superiority at scrum-time allowed France establish a platform that launched their eventual 34-21 victory and if they establish the same dominance on Sunday, Ireland are in real trouble.
Former Ireland loose-head Reggie Corrigan knows all about the power of the French scrum. Now working as a scrum coach with Leinster at Academy and domestic underage levels Corrigan faced France five times between 1998 and 2006 during an international career that yielded 47 caps.
Unfortunately, all five encounters ended in Irish defeat but they gave Corrigan an insight into the store the French place in their scrummaging and he expects a fearsome assault this weekend.
Over the course of those five internationals, Corrigan packed down against tight-heads of the quality of Franck Tournaire, Sylvain Marconnet and Pieter De Villiers and, most pertinently, the fulcrum of their current scrummaging effort — Nicolas Mas.
“Yeah, Mas is the real deal alright,” said Corrigan, “but the most noticeable thing about France against Scotland was that they scrummaged as a unit, as an eight.
“The French take a lot of pride in their scrummaging and it's not an accident that they are so strong there. I met their forwards coach (Didier Retiere) and he was telling me that this is a process they have been working on for eight or nine years since they looked at divisions one and two of their own league and discovered there were 55 overseas props playing there.
“The key for Ireland, up against a scrum as strong as France is to get it and get it out, no hanging around. It will come down to the speed and power of the hit and all eight working together, especially the back-row, they need to work their asses off.”