Ireland: On the road for the first two games, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland fell 27-22 to Scotland on the opening weekend before outclassing Italy 63-10 a fortnight ago in Rome. Their nine-try rout of the Azzurri at the Stadio Olimpico should see Ireland go into their clash with Les Bleus as slight favourites.
France: Under Guy Noves, there has been evidence of France beginning to rediscover their old Gallic flair and creativity. Despite losing narrowly 19-16 to England in Round One, they bounced back against Scotland with a 22-16 victory at the Stade de France and are beginning to resemble the formidable French outfits of yesteryear.
Fresh off the back of their rout of Italy, Ireland - 11/4 to win by 11-20 points this weekend - will enjoy playing in Dublin for the first time in this Six Nations. CJ Stander, man of the match two weeks ago, and replacement Craig Gilroy both helped themselves to hat-tricks in Rome. Back-row forward Stander has carried the ball 46 times so far this championship – more than any other player – and he’ll once again look to get his side over the gain line against a physical, gnarly French pack.
Ireland are an appealing 5/1 to score the first try on Saturday, and whilst France will provide a much stiffer test of Ireland’s credentials than Italy did, the stats suggest they should start as slight favourites. Ireland are the tournament’s top try-scorers with 12, and have made the most carries (363), most clean breaks (25), most passes (487), beaten the most defenders (69), scored the most points (85) and gained the most metres (1,187).
However, France narrowly beat Ireland 10-9 in last season’s corresponding fixture, and with Louis Picamoles, they have one of the form players of the championship at their core. With France priced at 11/2 to score the first try in Dublin, the Number 8 will be one to watch having made 201 metres and beaten 13 defenders in the first two rounds, more than any other player.
Fly-half Camille Lopez kicked 17 points in France’s victory over Scotland, and the Clermont Auvergne playmaker will need to be accurate from the tee again this weekend if his side are to secure their second win in three games. France are 11/8 to open the scoring with a penalty at the Aviva Stadium, and the stand-off will also have a key role to play orchestrating his gifted backs and manoeuvring his heavyweight pack around the park.
However, having cut loose against Italy and played some expansive, attacking rugby, the Irish faithful will be hoping for more of the same against France. Les Bleus are a different proposition, but if the men in green can throw the ball around with the same accuracy and intensity that we have seen, that four try bonus point could very well be within reach.
- Sports.net’s Top Tip: Ireland To Earn a Try Bonus Point at 9/2
*Please note that odds may fluctuate in the run up to the game.