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After a two-week hiatus, Ireland remain one of three teams still in with a chance of lifting the trophy following back-to-back wins in Scotland and Italy.
The opening-day defeat to England seems a long time ago, and Joe Schmidt’s side now come up against a rejuvenated France team in Dublin, fresh from recording their first win of the tournament against Scotland.
Ireland won 15-13 in Paris during the 2018 Championship courtesy of a sensational late drop-goal from Johnny Sexton. Ahead of the 98th Test match between the two sides, here are some talking points…
Ireland are fresh from a three-day training camp in Belfast and Schmidt will look to use the remainder of this annual championship to build some momentum heading to the World Cup in Japan.
Thirty-four players have been used so far across three games, but now is the time to start reeling the net in. A strong finish to the Six Nations will help eradicate the pain and uncertainty caused by their last outing on home soil.
Schmidt has been forthright in his views about Ireland’s performances this year, but is remaining positive having guided his side to 20 wins in their last 22 games.
Two massive Tests lie ahead, and should they travel to Wales off the back of a morale-boosting win against France, they will fancy their chances of stopping another Grand Slam as they did to England in 2017.
Ireland are unlikely to carry the same mental and physical frailties on home spoil as the patched-up Scots of a fortnight ago, and Schmidt’s charges will hope to dishevel France’s back-three set-up in the same way England did at Twickenham.
France head coach Jacques Brunel has spoken this week of trying to emulate the successful tactics Eddie Jones deployed earlier in the tournament.
He said: “What England offered us was of high quality; we have worked since then but it’s hard to predict everything.
The Irish are going to put pressure on us with their kicking game whether it’s Conor Murray or Johnny Sexton. We will try to master this characteristic of the Irish game.
“We watched their tournament matches, we saw their ability to hold the ball and inflict long sequences on their opponents.
“We know what to expect but they were well beaten by the English. There are weaknesses and we will try to pressurise those.
Having named the same 23 that overcame Scotland last time out, Brunel has resisted the temptation to recall Camille Lopez, with Toulouse duo Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack continuing in the half-back pairing.
Brunel has kept his belief in youth after both Dupont and Ntamack produced promising performances in the 27-10 home victory against Scotland in the previous round.
Having been bombarded by England’s offensive kicks during the 44-8 thrashing at Twickenham, Brunel is keen not to make the same mistake against the potent threat of Sexton and Murray.
Consistency has eluded France for some time, but Thomas Ramos again starts at full-back after a promising display in Paris two weeks ago.
Having maintained their 20-year home winning streak against Scotland, Brunel is clearly after a sense of continuity with his trio of young backs.
Scrum-half Dupont is covered on the bench by the 24-year-old Baptiste Serin, so the France head coach is happy to promote raw ability over more experienced individuals.
A remarkable 2018 for Ireland was capped by their victory over New Zealand in November, but they must now show they are capable of handling talk of being among the favourites for the World Cup.
Their credentials were not exactly boosted in Rome despite a bonus-point win, but Schmidt allowed his players some time off last week before returning to their Kildare base in a bid to ease any tension.
When Sexton was replaced in the final three minutes of Ireland’s win over Italy, there was a clear show of dissent towards the decision as he made way for debutant Jack Carty.
Sexton immediately apologised after being caught swearing on camera, but comparisons have been drawn by some to football’s Roy Keane, one of the best midfielders in his heyday but with an unquestionable short fuse.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best (c), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Iain Henderson, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Jack Conan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Jordan Larmour.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont; 1 Jefferson Poirot, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 3 Demba Bamba, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 5 Felix Lambey, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 7 Arthur Iturria, 8 Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Maxime Medard.