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Ireland v France talking points

Ireland will take on France in Dublin on Saturday gunning for a win to keep alive any RBS 6 Nations title hopes.

Here, Press Association Sport examines five key talking points ahead of the Aviva Stadium showdown.

Johnny Sexton dons his tin hat once again:

Ireland fly-half Sexton has been knocked out cold, suffered a closed-up black eye and been hit with multiple late tackles across the course of three years of running battles with France. Ever since the British and Irish Lions star moved to Racing 92, the French have not stopped targeting him - and overtly too. There has been no subtlety to the approach, and Sexton is still battling to render the tactic redundant. Sexton had the last laugh in 2014 when Ireland won 22-20 in Paris, then again in 2015 in an 18-11 triumph in Dublin. In 2014 he was knocked unconscious but scored two tries, while a year later he wound up almost unable to see out of a heavily-swollen eye. The special treatment kept coming when Ireland won out 24-9 at World Cup 2015, then Yoann Maestri escaped censure for a late hit in Paris in last year's Six Nations. Sexton is finally fit after a month fighting calf trouble, and has been immediately restored to Ireland's line-up - just in time to stare down another physical onslaught.

Can new boss Guy Noves really restore France's former glories?

France were a shadow of their former flair-filled selves in the dour tenure of old coach Philippe Saint-Andre. The ex-Gloucester and Sale coach prized power over panache, and paid the ultimate price with poor results - and then his job. Over to Noves, who led Toulouse to four Heineken Cup titles - more victories than any other team in the competition. The vastly-experienced club man has now started to transfer his open approach into the Test arena. So far the results are yet to follow, but France have been pushing the world's best to the limit on Noves' watch. Ireland are certainly of an explosion of France's old-style carefree attacking this weekend.

Ireland must shut down Louis Picamoles to contain the French:

France's Northampton number eight Picamoles has come to embody Les Bleus' offloading menace. The bullocking loose-forward can blast through tackles to create midfield caverns - but can also pop passes out of the challenges he cannot bust. And either approach can prove equally dangerous. Ireland must cover off Picamoles' offloading channels in order to keep France at bay this weekend.

Time for Ireland to sharpen up in defence:

Ireland struggled with their defensive alignment across their backline in the 27-22 loss to Scotland that opened this Six Nations. Joe Schmidt's men lost their shape without the ball on several costly occasions, and paid the price with the defeat. A cakewalk 63-10 win in Italy does little to alter the complexion of lingering frustrations from that Edinburgh defeat. Defence coach Andy Farrell continues to accept that the first-half effort in Scotland was well below par. Ireland must raise their defensive game considerably this weekend in order to stay on course in the tournament.

France's centres remain under extra attention:

Gael Fickou and Remy Lamerat promise much as a midfield pairing for France. And yet Les Bleus' centre duo have yet to fire in this campaign. The one-paced battering ram Mathieu Bastareaud was even recalled to the squad in a sign of something approaching desperation by Noves in a bid to add an extra dimension to his midfield, but the Toulon star was quickly ruled out through concussion. At 22 Fickou has long since been heralded as the coming man of French rugby, but has ultimately still to deliver on that promise.


From Belfast Telegraph