Arguably the most hotly anticipated fixture of recent Six Nations lore, Ireland vs. France promises to be an ultra-competitive clash of the titans, a blockbuster event that may define the entire tournament.
Both nations are red hot at the moment, winning each of their last six matches, reflecting their status as the top-two-ranked teams in the world.
With England struggling, Scotland’s form patchy, and Wales and Italy displaying underwhelming form, the winner of Ireland vs. France is tipped to take the trophy home this year. In this mammoth preview of rugby’s match of the season, we’ll give you everything you need to know before you sit down and dig into the popcorn.
The Story So Far
Ireland has clearly been the most impressive team so far after the first game week. Seemingly having a point to prove, they obliterated a stunned Welsh side 10-34. The Irish looked polished, professional, and well-organized. With less than a quarter played, the game had arguably already been put to bed; the 3-24 score line left Wales bewildered and unable to mount a comeback.
France, on the other hand, survived an Italian scare to extend their winning streak. Playing in a timid affair last weekend in the Italian capital, the French looked nothing like the side that dominated last year’s Six Nations. Despite never trailing in the match, France looked sluggish and let the Italians back into the contest, coming close to a late-game collapse.
The two teams will enter their clash at nearly full strength. They also feature the last two players of the year on their rosters. In 2021, the honour went to Antoine Dupont (France), with Irish flanker Josh van der Flier picking up the title last season. Each country has the luxury of star players in every position, with Ireland just about edging it based on recent form.
What Do the Bookies Say?
The talking heads are often berated for coming out with baseless predictions and surface-level analyses. While we don’t want to point fingers, it’s clear that the bookies tend to take a more developed approach to determine potential results.
The Irish are universal favourites, with most bookies putting them around the 1/2 mark. France will give you 9/5 odds, with a draw the expected long odds of 20/1. By all accounts, the Gaelic side is the safer bet and fortunately for punters, the perfect place for Irish fans to bet on rugby is just a few clicks away. It may not provide you anything better than that aforementioned 1/2 clip, but if the Aviva is rocking on Saturday, the locals simply won’t care.
Considering the French are not significantly inferior in terms of their roster (and some would claim they are more talented), odds of 9/5 don’t look so bad for those who like a wager.
What Happened Last Season?
France’s 2022 vintage was clearly superior to the Irish, winning the Grand Slam with a string of convincing performances. They gave the English a rugby clinic in their final match, clinching the title with a 25-13 victory.
Their second match against the Irish, however, was perhaps the most pivotal of the lot (sound familiar?). In a convincing display of offensive prowess, the French seemed to have it all wrapped up several times, only for the Irish to put together a spirited comeback.
Perhaps inevitably, the French simply proved a little too much on the day, the final result close, but the gulf in quality was more than apparent. No sensible Irish fan would have argued against it.
The last few meetings against France have given Ireland much food for thought, in any case. The Irish have lost three in a row; can Ireland turn their fortunes on Saturday?
Wing James Lowe is adamant this year will be different to past results, with a mix of quality and experience pushing the Irish to the top of the world rankings. With France the only remaining major country Ireland has not toppled during Farrell’s management tenure, the prospect of a hallmark win is an exciting one.
Ireland’s form is more than encouraging, with 2022 a historic year for the Irish outfit. The team conquered the Triple Crown, an Autumn Nations Series clean sweep, and a historic victory against New Zealand.
It is a testament to Andy Farrell’s impressive work that the Irish have improved every year since he joined after the 2019 RWC. Their total points score and difference have both been on a steady upward trajectory, and the side is now the uncontested number 1. All that is missing is silverware, with the match against the French being crucial.
The team has its star players, no doubt, but perhaps its greatest strength is in the sum of its parts. Their adaptability and willingness to follow Farrell’s plan in a cohesive and effective manner make Ireland a near-impossible team to beat.
Ireland also has fantastic strength in depth. They go three players deep at most positions, with several able to fulfil several roles should circumstances call for it. Even with injuries, Ireland will send out a formidable squad with few weaknesses.
Despite being the bookies’ favourites, Lowe warns against overconfidence and refuses to call it a decider. The French side still has a world-class roster, and one disappointing performance against Italy does not necessarily mean they’re on a downward trend. If anything, Lowe expects the French to come out battling from the word go.
World Cup Curse?
Despite Ireland’s stunning form, naysayers hold to the Irish tendency to fall apart in a World Cup year. But, is this reputation a myth? If we look at the stats, the country’s Six Nations winning percentage in a World Cup year is actually higher (72% vs. 64% in non-World Cup tournament years).
We expect the Irish to continue their stunning form, no matter what the historical stats tell us. Those are just year-on-year trends, often with different squads; the results of the last twelve months combined with a match at the Aviva point to an Ireland victory.
France Back-to-Back Bid
The French will host the RWC later this year and are determined to make a mark on the Six Nations. It will not only set the tone for their summer tournament, but also presents a unique opportunity to conquer back-to-back grand slams.
We keep mentioning Ireland’s good form, but France is the only men’s side to go through 2022 unbeaten. They played 10 and won every single contest, recording their best-ever year in terms of winning percentage.
They’re favourites to win the World Cup on French soil, which not only reflects their home advantage, but also their undeniable quality on the pitch. 2022 was an impressive year, with France edging Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand in a series of convincing displays.
The team also boasts some of rugby’s biggest names: Damian Penaud, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont, and Gregory Alldritt headline this year’s Six Nations roster. With plenty of youthful talent to boot, the French remain downright scary.
Perhaps most impressive this last season is the team’s improvement on the defensive end. The French have long been known for flair in attack and plenty of creativity, but their back line is often criticized for lacking the shape of a cohesive defensive unit.
In 2022, the changes have been nothing short of dramatic, notching the most turnovers and missing the fewest tackles. The French also boasted the third-best tackle success rate. Not bad for a team not historically known for its defensive prowess.
The chance of notching back-to-back grand slams may be a nearly impossible task, but the last team to do it? That’s right, Les Bleus in the 1997 and 1998 Five Nations editions. Perhaps history will once again repeat.
Home Advantage Could Be Critical
France and Ireland are just about evenly matched; it’s going to come down to the details. With Ireland enjoying home advantage at the Aviva Stadium, it may very well be the difference in determining a potential Grand Slam Winner.
According to a landmark 2008 statistical study, there is a statistically significant home advantage in 61% of matches. This advantage holds true regardless of a given team’s overall quality, pointing to an outsized effect of playing at home.
With such small margins keeping France and Ireland apart, the Aviva Stadium may hold the key. Considering France managed a narrow victory in Paris on their way to the Grand Slam last season, it may be Ireland’s turn.
Will the United States be Watching?
The United States will host a Rugby World Cup for the first time in its history in 2031, and they are pulling out all the stops to drive interest in the years leading up to the tournament.
In true American fashion, one of their strategies is to give viewers a unique behind-the-scenes look at the Six Nations tournament. We think that the team that wins this fixture will end up having the Netflix documentary as historic footage of their overall tournament win.
The Irish are the favourites and we expect them to live up to this billing, World Cup year or not. Nevertheless, a French victory would not be a shock, with their roster still featuring some of the best-attacking talent rugby has to offer.