Potential Six Nations title decider? Ireland versus France talking points

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The world’s top two nations collide on Saturday when Ireland host France in a blockbuster Guinness Six Nations match in Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s hosts launched their campaign with an emphatic 34-10 win in Wales, while Les Bleus were less convincing in scraping past Italy 29-24.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points ahead of a mouthwatering Aviva Stadium encounter.

World number one versus Grand Slam champions

There is a sense of deja vu going into the crunch clash.

Last year’s round-two fixture between the sides was billed as a title decider and justified the hype as the Irish ultimately had to settle for the consolation of a Triple Crown behind Grand Slam champions France due to a captivating 30-24 loss in Paris.

There are similar expectations for the latest meeting, with both sides in phenomenal form.

Ireland have not lost at home since a 15-13 defeat to the French two years ago, while the visitors are bidding for a 15th successive victory to keep their title defence on track and usurp their opponents in the world rankings.

Ireland “comfortably favourites”?

France fly-half Romain Ntamack claimed Ireland are
France fly-half Romain Ntamack claimed Ireland are “comfortably favourites (Adam Davy/PA)

But, while Ireland underlined their status as marginal pre-tournament favourites with a resounding success in Cardiff, Les Bleus have dominated this fixture in recent years and remain the only major nation yet to suffer defeat to the Irish during the Farrell era.

Ireland have undoubtedly progressed over the past year but ending their hoodoo against Fabien Galthie’s men will be a significant feat.

Sheehan sidelined

France v Ireland – Guinness Six Nations – Stade de France
Ireland hooker Dan Sheehan is injured (Adam Davy/PA)

The 24-year-old has been instrumental in his country’s elevation to the top of the world rankings and his absence further weakens a front row already missing star prop Tadhg Furlong.

Ulster’s Rob Herring has plenty of experience but sizeable boots to fill, while Ronan Kelleher makes a welcome return to the bench following recent hamstring trouble.

Home advantage to be “a weapon”

Ireland have made the Aviva Stadium a fortress, winning 18 of 19 Tests with Farrell at the helm.

The sole blot on that copybook was made by France in 2021 when the ground was empty due to coronavirus restrictions.

Farrell says home advantage must be a weapon and has urged a sold-out Dublin crowd to play their part in turning the tables on the French, who benefited from a partisan Stade de France atmosphere on this weekend last year, particularly when Ireland had them on the ropes in a thrilling second half.

Murray and Sexton versus Dupont and Ntamack

Among the many intriguing individual battles is a key contest between two of the game’s great half-back partnerships.

Long-serving Irish duo Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton have been international team-mates for almost 12 years, while the 22 Tests Toulouse pair Antoine Dupont and Ntamack have played alongside each other is a French record.

Sexton – described by rival fly-half Ntamack as “a role model for every rugby player” – is preparing to face France for the first time in three years following previous fitness issues and always comes under additional scrutiny in this particular fixture due to his spell with Racing 92.

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