France v Ireland preview: Battle for Pool D could go either way in Cardiff
- Winner will face Argentina in the final eight while the loser takes on reigning champions New Zealand
- Both Nations have won three out of three so far with Ireland ahead on points difference
- Joe Schmidt makes three changes to the Irish starting XV
- France has not defeated the men in green since before the World Cup in 2011
France and Ireland are both unbeaten so far as they go head-to-head in Cardiff on Sunday with the grand prize being to avoid reigning world champions New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Both teams have 14 points so far but Joe Schmidt’s side top Pool D on points difference.
The pool winner will face Argentina in the quarter-final, which could be crucial to Ireland as they have never reached a semi-final of a Rugby World Cup in seven previous attempts.
France though has not beaten Ireland since before the last World Cup, losing their most recent two against the men in green and drawing the two before that.
Phillipe Saint-Andre has attempted field his strongest possible line-up, recalling Louis Picamoles, who will win his 50th cap, as one of two changes while Noa Nakaitacicomes in to start on the wing.
In fact, the France head coach has referred back to 13 of the side who faced Italy in their opening World Cup match. The only two changes sees centre Wesley Fofana come in for Alexandre Dumoulin while Nakaitaci replaces the injured Yoann Huget.
Schmidt has made three changes to his starting XV. Devin Toner is coming in for Iain Henderson at lock; Rob Kearney returns in place of Simon Zebo at full-back and Cian Healy takes over from birthday boy Jack McGrath at loosehead prop.
This game should be tight as both sides contain a lot of quality throughout their starting XV’s. Neither of the two has been overly convincing with their displays so far despite winning all three of their games but following their Six Nations triumph in the spring we would probably go for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.
Ireland by 5
Players to watch
Following a fine individual display against Canada fly-half, Michalak has shown more than ever how crucial he is to this France team. The Les Bleus number 10 is an excellent kicker of the ball but also offers that dynamic influence with his unpredictable running and abundance of Creativity. He is an exciting player to watch when he has the ball in hand, and he may prove crucial to whether France can unlock the robust Ireland defence. Michalak also has an outstanding record against Ireland, with six wins and a draw from his seven games against them previously.
Healy is one of the best loosehead ins world rugby, and Ireland’s World Cup hopes were significantly boosted when he won his race to be fit for the competition following a serious neck injury. This clash is the highly-rated scrummagers first start in a big game since his return so it will be interesting to see how he performs in the early stages. If he is anywhere near the best Ireland will likely dominate in the scrum.
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Brice Dulin, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Bernard le Roux, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Alexandre Dumoulin
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Nathan White, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald
Date: Sunday, October 11
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 16:45 local (15:45 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)