Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Date: Sunday, February 14th, 2021
France got off to a perfect Six Nations start in Round 1 as they hammered a youthful and inexperienced Italy side 50-10 in Rome. The bonus-point win came on the back of seven tries including a brace from Teddy Thomas and an imperious performance from scrum-half Antoine Dupont. Dupont scored one, assisted four, and continues to be the best scrum-half in the world at always being in the right place at the right time to either continue or finish an attacking move. Italy was terrible – this is a side that just never really seems to get any better – but France never looked in trouble after opening the scoring in the fifth minute through Dylan Cretin.
Ireland, on the other hand, got off to a terrible start as they went down 21-16 in Round one at the hands of Wales in Cardiff. It was a tense opener that the visitors were favoured to win but most of their game plan went out of the window after just 14 minutes when Peter O’Mahony was sent off. The incident was careless more than intentional, but O’Mahoney’s red card for an elbow to the head of Welsh prop Tomas Francis left the referee little choice in what to do with the Irish flanker. Ireland had a chance to get into prime scoring position late, but a kick for touch by replacement fly-half Billy Burns went dead in goal to end the contest. That kick was symptomatic of everything Ireland tried to do in the game and they will have to be much better against the rampant and confident French to have any chance on their own patch on Sunday.
O’Mahony will not be the only change for the Irish as he deals with a three-match ban that will see him miss all but the last game of this Six Nations’ campaign. Injuries to half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton have ruled both out here, with their spots at No. and No. 10 being taken by Jamison Gibson-Park and Burns respectively. Sexton is not the only player to be ruled out with a concussion either as lock James Ryan is suffering from the same problem. His spot in the second row will be taken by Iain Henderson
The French have made just two changes to their starting XV for the trip to Dublin. The brace of tries that Thomas scored in Rome is not enough for him to retain his place in the side as head coach Fabien Galthie makes a tactical change here. Damian Penaud comes in on one wing and Gabin Villiere maintains his spot on the other as Galthie expects the Irish to test his wingers with high balls and pressure. The other change is in the back row where Anthony Jeloch replaces Cretin.
This is where Dupont and France’s young stars need to show they have what it takes to win with the pressure on. They have a real shot at a Grand Slam this year – especially if England doesn’t improve this weekend – and while Ireland will look to keep the score low and control territory the French will be looking for their flair to come to the fore. I like Franch to win in a low scoring encounter – think less than 40 points for a total – so winning margins of 1-5 (3.75), 6-10 (4.00), and 11-15 (5.50) are all interesting on BetXChange.