Ireland V France
This game has far more significance than the table suggests. France have a chance to really prove things are turning around for them by backing up their big win against Scotland, from which they’ve kept the same team to no surprise. Ireland on the other hand, who it feels like we haven’t watched play in Dublin for an eternity since that England game, have the chance to really snatch the title back should pigs fly and both Wales and England lose their games this weekend. I won’t get carried away and suggest Ireland winning the title, but they will have the belief that they still can, as the title can be snatched with four wins and a scattering of bonus points. But at the same time, Ireland will know how big a test this will be despite the home advantage. Even though five out of the first nine games have been won by the away side, and Ireland were one of the teams to lose at home, the Aviva Stadium is relentless and not an easy venue to silence.
42 phases and a 45 metre drop goal did the job last year, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing anything near as close as that this time round. Ireland will know what they need to do to get the job done and in terms of squad strength, they’re as good as they get despite the absence of Devin Toner and the surprise omission of the war hammer that is Sean O’Brien. Their squad felt like it was hitting the panic button last round, with most of the regulars giving Italy a good contest in Rome. Looking back on the way they played, it’s a good job the old boys stepped out at the Stadio Olympico, otherwise they might not be in as fortuitous a position as they are now.
Brunel knows he’s under pressure, and he’ll be aware of the demanding French public breathing down his neck on Sunday, so good luck to him trying to get the result he needs in Dublin. But I have a suspicion we’re going to get a taste of the Ireland of 2018 that we’ve missed this year. The team that went 42 flawless phases to bag a win, the team that downed the All Blacks, the team that proved time and time again they can get the job done. Schmidt won’t need to do much to fire this team up, they know what’s at stake, let’s just see which Ireland turns up.
Predicted result: Ireland by 5