France v Ireland: Three key battles
Published 14/03/2014 | 12:47
Here are some of the key battles which could decide the game.
NICOLAS MAS v CIAN HEALY
Montpellier tighthead Mas stormed out of a press conference on Tuesday, furious at criticism of the French scrum. Mas reacted angrily to suggestions France have been too slow to adapt to the new scrum laws. Leinster loosehead Healy admitted Ireland have coped admirably with the scrum engagement revisions, but still expects a severe test from the French.
Healy conceded Mas' tantrum may only serve to wind the French up, generating all the motivation they need for a first-class performance. Two squat and compact front rows will collide at the scrum; the side that emerges in credit will have a head start towards victory.
PASCAL PAPE v PAUL O'CONNELL
Pape has deputised for injured skipper Thierry Dusautoir throughout the tournament, and is cut from the same combative cloth as Munster talisman O'Connell.
Ireland boast the tournament's most consistent line-out, and have whipped their driving maul into something of a potent weapon.
France have selected six forwards in their eight replacements, gearing up for a relentless pack onslaught. Locks Pape and O'Connell will be at the centre of the aerial set-piece contest, another battleground that will go some way to deciding the fate of this year's Six Nations title.
MATHIEU BASTAREAUD v BRIAN O'DRISCOLL
The erratic young battering ram against the wily veteran thinker.
France will look to work situations to send Toulon's Bastareaud careering towards Ireland's defensive line. Should the 25-year-old scythe through and offload out of contact, Ireland will be in trouble.
World record Test caps holder O'Driscoll might have lost the half-yard of pace that allowed him to arc through defences in his prime, but the 35-year-old has not lost an ounce of sharpness. The Leinster stalwart's defensive organisation remains second to none, and his sleight of hand in routine Italy victory indicated his mind still works overtime. Do not bet against one of the sport's finest-ever centre's pulling out another vintage showing, to bring down his glittering international career.
* Both France and Ireland can still claim the RBS 6 Nations crown. France would need to beat Ireland and for either England to lose to Italy, or overhaul England's 29-point advantage in the standings. Ireland's plus-81 points difference means victory in Paris should see them claim the title.
* Ireland are chasing just their second win in 23 away matches against France in all competitions.
* Brian O'Driscoll will make his 141st and final Test appearance before retiring in the summer, in his 15th game against France. O'Driscoll has eight tries against France, more than he has scored against any other national team.
* Rory Best's 55th Test start equals Keith Wood's record as the Ireland hooker with the most international starts.
* Nicolas Mas will move second on France's all-time list of most-capped starting props, with his 59th start. Christian Califano tops the pile with 61 starts.
* Ireland have conceded just 27 penalties in the Six Nations so far, making them the most disciplined side in the competition.
* France have conceded the most turnovers with 68.
* Ireland lead the Six Nations line-out charts, with 57 wins and just four losses.
* Ireland have made more passes than any other side at 710, while France's 67 offloads sets them apart from their Six Nations rivals.
* France have lost just one of their last six matches in the tournament, 27-6 to Wales in round three this term.