Les Bleus Handicap Value At The Aviva
Ireland v France
It’s a clash of the titans affair at the Aviva Saturday afternoon as Six Nations champions Ireland take on the enigmatic French.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland went from strength to strength in 2014, winning the 6 Nations and recording an impressive clean sweep in their autumn internationals, which included victories over both South Africa and Australia. They weren’t at their best last week in their 6 Nations opener in Rome, but they kept battling away and eventually overcame a stubborn Italian defence to kick off with a win.
France have continued to put in some poor performances under Philippe Saint-Andre in recent months, losing to Wales, Ireland and Argentina, yet have also managed to beat England and Australia. Against Scotland last week they offered plenty of powerful running in the second half, but couldn’t break through the Scottish defence, relying on the boot of fly-half Camille Lopez to earn a seven point victory.
Ireland took on Italy without a number of their first-choice fifteen but will be boosted by their return for this crucial game. Jonny Sexton has been given the all clear to start playing again after a series of concussions, Rory Best is also fit after suffering a suspected concussion and key forwards Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy are available.
France are still missing scrum-half Sebastian Tillous-Borde, centre Alexandre Dumoulin and number eight Louis Picamoles, and their injury list has lengthened. Lock Alexandre Flanquart is not fully fit and is replaced by Jocelina Suta, whilst prop Vincent Debaty comes in for Alexandre Menini, who has picked up a foot injury.
Head to Head
Ireland beat France in their first two 6 Nations meetings, in 2000 and 2001, but have won only three of their thirteen encounters in this tournament since, and only two of their last fifteen matches against the French in all competitions.
Despite that poor Irish record, the most notable aspect of their recent head to head record is how closely these teams are matched.
Only two of their last eleven meetings have been settled by a double figure score.
In seven of those games the margin was five points or fewer, a run of tight results that included consecutive 6 Nations draws in 2012 and 2013 and last year’s famous 22-20 Ireland victory in Paris.
Neither of these sides were at their best in their opening 6 Nations fixtures, but both can be expected to raise their game for a clash that has produced some thrillers in the last few tournaments.
Given their strong form over the last year and the inconsistency of their opponents, Ireland are the clear favourites, but the recent history of this fixture suggests France could push them very close. The French failed to score a try in front of their home crowd last weekend, but they are always dangerous opponents and I fancy them to make this a tight affair. Back France +7 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.