Saturday 23 September 2017

Five key talking points ahead of the Aviva clash between Ireland and France

Ireland players, clockwise, from top left, Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss, Simon Zebo, Sean O'Brien, Jack McGrath and Cian Healy pose for a squad photograph ahead of the captain's run. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Ireland players, clockwise, from top left, Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss, Simon Zebo, Sean O'Brien, Jack McGrath and Cian Healy pose for a squad photograph ahead of the captain's run. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Ireland host France in Dublin on Saturday aiming to keep alive their chances of retaining the Six Nations title.

Here, we examine five key talking points ahead of the Aviva Stadium showdown.

1) CAN JOHNNY SEXTON CLAIM IMMEDIATE TEST-MATCH SHARPNESS AFTER HIS ENFORCED 12-WEEK CONCUSSION LAY-OFF?

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt insists there is no risk fielding fly-half Sexton, who returns after a 12-week concussion stand-down.

France have made no secret whatsoever of their intention to throw the kitchen sink at Sexton in the early stages in Dublin on Saturday.

Schmidt hinted that inference holds more than a hint of phoney war about it - but one thing is clear - France will send tree-trunk centre Mathieu Bastareaud straight down Sexton's channel from the off.

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Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and Jonathan Sexton

2) HOW MANY IRELAND PLAYERS WILL IT TAKE TO STOP EXPRESS-TRAIN CENTRE MATHIEU BASTAREAUD?

Schmidt conceded it took three Ireland players to haul down the bullocking centre in Ireland's 22-20 victory in Paris last March.

The Kiwi boss was not joking either.

Full-back Rob Kearney has admitted Ireland must have a special plan to double-up on the Toulon centre, but also warned they cannot over-commit.

When Bastareaud has his mind set on breaking the line, he usually does: if he arrives in true rampaging style, Schmidt's men are in for a long afternoon.

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Mathieu Bastareaud will spearhead the French challenge against Ireland, again keeping a close eye on Johnny Sexton

3) WILL IRELAND FLANKER SEAN O'BRIEN FINALLY BEAT HIS INJURY JINX?

Luckless O'Brien spent the best part of 15 months fighting to regain fitness from two consecutive shoulder operations, to force his way back into Ireland's starting team to face Italy last weekend.

The gritty Leinster loose-forward was all set for his first Test bow since November 2013, only to tweak a hamstring in the final stages of Ireland's warm-up.

The 27-year-old will be desperately hoping it is second time lucky after recovering once more to face France.

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Ireland's Sean O'Brien in action during a squad training session ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship game against France in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

4) WILL PHILIPPE SAINT-ANDRE'S GAMBLE ON VINCENT DEBATY DOMINATING MARTY MOORE AT THE SCRUM PAY DIVIDEND?

France boss Saint-Andre admitted he selected Debaty on the bench ahead of Thomas Domingo purely because the 33-year-old dominated Moore in Paris last year.

The two men are set for a lively re-acquaintance at the Aviva Stadium when both inevitably step off the bench for the game's last quarter.

Leinster's fast-emerging tighthead Moore is not the Test rookie of last year however.

The 23-year-old has sneaked ahead of the highly-experienced Mike Ross in Leinster's pecking order in recent weeks.

Ireland boss Schmidt has kept faith with 33-year-old Ross in his starting shirt however, teeing up Moore's intriguing rematch with Debaty.

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Ireland’s Keith Earls is blocked by France’s Vincent Debaty (left) as Louis Picamoles touches down for a France ‘22’ in the latter stages of Saturday’s draw

5) CAN FRANCE REDISCOVER THEIR MUCH-FABLED FLAIR?

Ireland full-back Kearney has warned: "If you take the French on at their own game, chances are they are going to come out on top".

The Irish are determined not to deviate from their pragmatic approach just because they are facing a side keen to throw the ball around.

Adding width and air for the sake of it plays right into France's hands, and Ireland are unlikely to fall into that trap.

Can France come back to full attacking life after a routine 15-8 victory over Scotland? Perhaps even the world's most unpredictable side do not even know themselves.

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France's Wesley Fofana (C) attempts to evade the tackle of Scotland's Dougie Fife (L) and Blair Cowan (R) during their Six Nations rugby union match at the Stade de France

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