Four tries against France, in Paris, with the championship on the line? Sign us up.
Ireland defeated Italy 50-17 at Lansdowne Road, on Saturday, to tee up a enticing finalé to the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.
The bonus point victory put Ireland on 14 points, one clear of England and France and with a superior points difference. England did not get their intended warm-up game against the Barbarians, but they will be favourites to pick up five points and rack up a decent winning margin against the Azzurri in Rome.
That would leave Eddie Jones’ men on 18 points. The advantage for Ireland, and France, is that their game kicks off at 8:05pm and both sides will know exactly what is needed [the England vs. Italy game will wrap up around 7pm].
The French are in the toughest spot as a bonus point England win would, most likely, leave them needing to beat Ireland by a sizeable margin (a conservative estimate would be 20 points). Ireland could yet edge the championship on points difference without the try-scoring bonus, but it could prove nerve-jangling stuff.
AS IT STANDS…
The result that would guarantee Ireland their fourth Six Nations championship since 2014 would be winning in Paris and getting the try-scoring bonus point while they are at it.
That question was the elephant in the room (or Lansdowne Road) on Saturday, during Andy Farrell’s post-match briefing. Everyone knows a bonus point win would seal the title, but Farrell and his players want to steer clear of such mentions before the game.
Asked for his overriding emotion heading into next Saturday’s game at Stade de France, the Ireland head coach commented:
“Well, the bigger picture stuff is to get some meaning into next week and we certainly managed to do that. We certainly always want to be in with a chance in the last game to try and win the trophy.
“It’s a big old ask to go to Paris and try to win. Obviously the French have a fantastic squad… It’s always a big ask to go and win there but we’ve started out campaign and we’ve got ourselves into next week with a chance. We’ve got a lot to fix up, which you would expect after week one but it puts us in good stead for next week as well.”
In terms of team selection for the game, there is not much we would change with the starting line-up or bench. Garry Ringrose is out for between four to six weeks after breaking his jaw in the win over Italy, so that is the one big area Farrell will be addressing.
His options are to start Robbie Henshaw at 13, which is what we would opt for, or to draft in Chris Farrell or Stuart McCloskey and leave the versatile Henshaw on the bench.
Should Farrell go for Henshaw, he then has to choose who steps in as backline cover on the bench. Farrell and McCloskey look set to duke it out, but Shane Daly can cover all positions across the backline and, we heard, Keith Earls is back in training. It would be a lot to ask for Earls to step straight into the Test arena, but he is a proven performer at this stage and has produced the goods in Paris before.
Otherwise, we would go with a relatively unchanged squad again. There is an option of bringing in Josh van der Flier as a fresh back row option and Jack Carty might be suited to a looser attacking game should Ireland sense the bonus point is on.
Our Ireland team to face France
15. Jacob Stockdale
14. Andrew Conway
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Hugo Keenan
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray
1. Cian Healy
2. Rob Herring
3. Andrew Porter
4. James Ryan
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Caelan Doris
7. Will Connors
8. CJ Stander
Subs: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Chris Farrell.