The teams for the 2021 Six Nations second round match between Ireland and France were announced yesterday.
Ireland have made four changes, all forced, to the starting line up against Wales. Jamison Gibson Park and Billy Burns come in as the starting halfbacks following Sexton’s failure to recover from last weeks knock to the head and hamstring issues for Murray. Iain Henderson returns to the starting line up following last week’s extended run out, after Ryan’s concussion, and takes over the captaincy and Rhys Ruddock comes into the back row for the suspended O’Mahony.
In the replacements Ed Byrne comes in for Kilcoyne and Ultan Dillane and Ross Byrne take the spots vacated by Henderson and Burns respectively. The big surprise is the uncapped Craig Casey getting the nod as the replacement scrum half following a couple of reasonably successful seasons in Ireland U20s.
Despite the changes Ireland still weigh in with 522 caps in the starting XV and 114 in the replacements. The total of 636 caps in the squad is down 251* from the squad against Wales but it’s still fairly hefty compared to France’s 300 caps amongst the starters and 136 in their replacements.
*Corrected 13th March 2021
Whether by luck or judgement France appear to be a lot further down the road of developing a team for the 2023 World Cup and after a comparatively gentle work out against Italy in the opening round they have the luxury of making two tactical changes to their squad with Damien Penaud and Anthony Jelonch coming in for Teddy Thomas and Dylan Cretin respectively. It points towards France planning on a more controlled game, Penaud’s composure under the high ball preferred to Thomas’ pace.
The visitors also appear to be a lot further down the line with their coaching ticket with Fabien Galthié and Shawn Edwards striking a good balance between attack and defence. Ireland are still in the development stage with Andy Farrell and the newly appointed Paul O’Connell, who’s previous experiences with Ireland U20 in 2018 were fairly unsuccessful. To me it’s a defence based coaching ticket at Ireland and that has seen teams happy to give Ireland plenty of possession in the expectation that there won’t be many surprises. .
The half back pairing of Gibson Park and Burns should mix it up a bit more but they are also pretty unproven at this level. It’ll be a tough test against the sensational Antoine Dupont and the ever improving Matthieu Jalibert.
Gibson Park appeared to lose his spark when put under pressure in the Nations Cup and Burns has mixed the good with the bad. It’s a big test for the pairing and how they respond will be interesting.
Of course the outcome will be decided up front and I think Ireland need a change of mindset here if they are ever going to progress beyond the four year cycle of Six Nations success and World Cup failure. Against Wales they won 165 rucks, to Wales’ 78, only completed 3 offloads and appeared to actively seek contact even when in space. They have to make the ball do more work and that balance has to change.
The FRU Predicts: The bookies have France favourites to record their first win at the Aviva since 2011 with Les Bleus tipped at evens on -5. I would actually have them at evens on -12 and a lot would need to go right for Ireland if they are to get anything out of this.
However, I’ll be happy if I see Ireland play a riskier game in attack, even if there are a few mistakes. Penaud’s selection shows they are worried about the ball behind their defensive line and Burns is just the man to exploit this.
|Hugo Keenan||15||Brice Dulin|
|Keith Earls||14||Damian Penaud|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Arthur Vincent|
|Robbie Henshaw||12||Gaël Fickou|
|James Lowe||11||Gabin Villière|
|Billy Burns||10||Matthieu Jalibert|
|Jamison Gibson Park||9||Antoine Dupont|
|Cian Healy||1||Cyril Baille|
|Rob Herring||2||Julien Marchand|
|Andrew Porter||3||Mohamed Haouas|
|Tadhg Beirne||4||Bernard Le Roux|
|Iain Henderson (C)||5||Paul Willemse|
|Rhys Ruddock||6||Anthony Jelonch|
|Josh van der Flier||7||Charles Ollivon|
|CJ Stander||8||Grégory Alldritt|
|Ronan Kelleher||16||Pierre Bourgarit|
|Ed Byrne||17||Hassane Kolingar|
|Tadhg Furlong||18||Uini Atonio|
|Ultan Dillane||19||Romain Taofifenua|
|Will Connors||20||Dylan Cretin|
|Craig Casey||21||Baptiste Serin|
|Ross Byrne||22||Anthony Bouthier|
|Jordan Larmour||23||Teddy Thomas|