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Unfortunately for France, Ireland’s excellent form in 2017, in which they only lost two games – away to Scotland and Wales in last year’s Six Nations – leads us to predict them as heavy favourites, with an expected result of 14 – 28 and a 76% chance of an Irish victory.
Whether this result materialises, however, depends on whether France can find form with a new coach and a significant injury problem and whether Ireland can carry their momentum through from the autumn.
France and Ireland have met 96 times with France dominating the head to head: 56 wins to Ireland’s 33. The longest period of domination was between 1983 and 1999, during which time Ireland’s best result was a 15 all draw in Dublin.
However, since 2011, France have only managed a single victory – a close 10-9 in the Stade de France in 2016 whereas Ireland have won four times including an away victory in 2014 as well as in the Millennium Stadium in the 2015 World Cup.
Ireland ran out as comfortable victors in the 2017 Six Nations outscoring the French 19-9, with France just managing three penalties from the boot of Camille Lopez.
Following a torrid 2017, in which they recorded a mere 3 victories in 11 games, conceding an average of 25 points a game whilst scoring only an average of 19, Guy Noves was sacked as France coach and replaced with Jacques Brunel.
Given the change in coach as well as a relatively changed squad, there is every chance that France will hold on to their “unpredictable” label for at least the rest of this tournament. However, with the size of their playing infrastructure and the quality of players available to them, perhaps this season will see a return to the France of old who were rightly characterised for their flair and ability to attack.
However, if France are to return to their historic place at the top-table of Europe, it is unlikely that any such renaissance will start against Ireland. Stade de France is a formidable venue, with France only having lost ten times since the inception of the Six Nations in 2000 (Ireland have only lost nine games at home in the same period), but Ireland are still our picks for the win.
Ireland were dominant in 2017 – scoring an average of 32 points a game whilst only conceding an average of 16, notching up wins against France, England, South Africa and Argentina. However, it is worth noting that all of Ireland’s victories were at home – against top tier opposition Ireland failed to win away from Lansdowne Road.
Ireland have a number of exciting players in the backs – Jonny Sexton as always will get the Irish backs moving whilst Jordan Larmour has a highlights reel to put most other back three players’ to shame – but it is in the backrow where Ireland are truly world class. Players like Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and C J Stander could walk into any other Six Nations teams and can expect to dominate the statistics in terms of carrying, tackling and winning the ball.
Ireland are just shaded by England as favourites to win the tournament, largely because England are set to play Ireland at home this year, but a good start against France should set them on course for a Grandslam showdown with England in Twickenham on 17 March.