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Rugby World Cup: France v Ireland - Where crunch Pool D game is going to be won and lost

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 09/10/2015

Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip
Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip

The Pool D decider between Ireland and France on Sunday has been almost three years in the making, circled on the calendar since the World Cup draw was made in December of 2012.

Here we analyse the key positional battles that will decide the crucial Millennium Stadium clash.

THE TIGHT FIVE

Cian Healy could be included in the starting line-up to face Philippe Saint-Andre's side and that should be the only change to a tight five that dragged Ireland over the line against Italy last weekend.

It is on the other side of the scrum where the battle of the set-piece will be determined however. Eddy Ben Arous, the Racing Metro loosehead who has vowed his side will target his former clubmate Jonny Sexton, will go head-to-head with Mike Ross come scrum-time and the Cork native will need to be as reliable ever.

Rory Best should have the edge over his opposite number, whether it will be Guilhem Guirado, Dimitri Szarewski or Ben Kayser, but the Ulsterman will need to be accurate out of touch.

Ireland have yet to lose a lineout at this tournament but France will target their ball and Paul O'Connell and Iain Henderson, whatever they do around the park, must be wary of Pascal Pape and Yoann Maestri.

Verdict: Ireland

LOOSE FORWARDS

Despite the performances of Chris Henry at this World Cup, Joe Schmidt is expected to opt for his established loose trio of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony.

The Irish gameplan will be based around the need for quick ball but France's imposing back-row could throw a spanner in the works. Captain and talisman Thierry Dusautoir may not be the player he was in his prime but the Toulouse star is still a formidable figure. Bernard Le Roux is a pest at the breakdown and will test O'Brien while Louis Picamoles is a man reborn of late. Man-of-the-match in their opener against Italy, he will be relied upon for go-forward ball.

Verdict: France

HALF-BACKS

At present, it seems like Saint-Andre's biggest selection gamble has paid off. Freddie Michalak is often a much-maligned figure but the inconsistent Toulon man has been an asset so far in this World Cup.

When given space, as he was against Canada a week ago, he has the vision and skillset to exploit openings in the opposition defensive line and his kicking off the tee has saw him become France's record point-scorer at the tournament.

Morgan Parra may be the Top 14's form scrum-half but Sebastien Tillous-Borde has been getting the nod for the big games thanks to his familiarity with Michalak from their day jobs at the three-time European champions.

For Ireland, Sexton remains the key cog in the machine, a fact recognised by the French who have done their best to unsettle the out-half in the build-up.

His kicking game will need to be accurate if he is to pop balls in behind the French back-three, as will the box-kicks of scrum-half Conor Murray, but it will be Sexton's use of ball in hand that will create the opportunities to get Ireland's big ball carriers across the gainline.

Verdict: Ireland

MIDFIELD

For the first time at this World Cup, Joe Schmidt is able to select his first choice centre pairing.

After Robbie Henshaw missed the first two pool games against Canada and Romania, Jared Payne was forced to sit out against Italy with a bruised foot.

Both are back fit and firing for the weekend according to management and the Ireland coach will be relieved to have his Six Nations winners back together.

Ulster's outside centre was bizarrely criticised in some quarters earlier in the pool but he is a key figure for Ireland and will be relied upon for his defensive ability on Sunday.

Mathieu Bastareaud is a battering ram of a centre while Wesley Fofana inside him remains one of few throwbacks to previous French generations in the current squad and the Clermont man provides a real X-factor.

Verdict: Honours even.

BACK-THREE

Yoann Huget made it to the World Cup after escaping a ban for an unsightly Top 14 stamp but was soon returning home after injury in the first game.

His absence on the wing weakens Saint-Andre's outside options and the head coach is expected to go for a functional, rather than flamboyant, back-three.

Another South African, Scott Spedding (pictured) will get the nod in the 15 jersey and, his fellow full-back, Brice Dulin is expected to figure on the wing. Last week's debutant Remy Grosso has been tipped to edge out the more explosive Noa Nakaitaci.

Clearly anticipating an aerial battle, it remains unlikely that Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney will come out on the wrong side of too many contestable kicks.

Verdict: Ireland

Prediction: Collectively and individually, Ireland enter the contest in good shape and, despite the French penchant for stepping it up come World Cup time, Joe Schmidt's men will expect to win.

Ireland to edge it by 5-9 points.

Pool D: Millennium Stadium, Ireland v France, Sunday 4.45pm (ITV)

Belfast Telegraph

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