Ireland out to make history in Paris
March 14, 2014
Philippe Saint-Andre praises Brian O'Driscoll
It seems the stars are aligning in Ireland's favour. As international rugby prepares to bid adieu to Brian O'Driscoll, those of Irish persuasion will hope the great man finishes his final Six Nations with a winner's medal.
Ireland are in the box seat. With a superior points difference of 49 over second-placed England, they know regardless of what happens in Rome, a win in Paris is likely to see them home. The form book suggests Ireland are in a good place to achieve this. Apart from their 13-10 loss to England in round three, they have recorded resounding wins over Scotland, Wales and Italy. Joe Schmidt's philosophy is painted all over this team with Ireland's game focusing on establishing a base with a solid set piece and then looking for attacking opportunities.
France will have to be at their best if they are to beat Ireland. While they too are in the race for the title, they have come in for plenty of criticism following their loss to Wales in round three and their narrow win over Scotland last weekend. Talk this week from the French camp has seen Philippe Saint-Andre attempt to deflect blame off his side for their performances while Nicolas Mas was so aggrieved at the criticism levelled at the French pack that he upped sticks and walked out of a press conference.
But Ireland are wary of this French team, they are three from four after all. Ireland coach Les Kiss said this week they are not a "dishevelled place of chaos" and as rugby well knows, there is nothing more unpredictable than Les Bleus.
For France, Yoann Huget is playing well on the flank and scored the all-important try against Scotland last weekend. Brice Dulin at fullback has also put in some consistent performances.
Chris Henry has done a superb job of holding down the openside berth with Sean O'Brien out injured while Peter O'Mahony has been the standout blindside in the championship. Jonathan Sexton played his best game of the 2014 Six Nations last weekend against Italy and O'Driscoll is still confounding defences despite being in the twilight years of his Test career.
Out of form
The French half-backs have come in for plenty of criticism in the Six Nations and Saint-Andre has gone for his third different pairing against Ireland with Maxime Machenaud and Remi Tales starting. The pack has also come in for flak, talk which prompted the infamous Mas walkout.
Ireland are playing well as a unit - there were questions over Sexton's form and fitness earlier in the tournament but he performed well last weekend.
Key area to watch
France have recalled Louis Picamoles in the back-row and he starts at blindside. He will come up against O'Mahony and that battle may go some way to determining which way the result swings.
Time to say goodbye
Saturday will make the end to O'Driscoll's Ireland career. The finest player of his generation, Ireland will have to work hard to fill the void left by the talismanic centre. Robbie Henshaw has been earmarked by O'Driscoll as the right man to wear the outside centre shirt, but those ponderings will have to wait for another day as the Six Nations bids farewell to O'Driscoll on Saturday. He has re-written the history books for the tournament. No one has made more appearances or scored more tries in the championship than O'Driscoll. He will be missed.
Ireland will win by three points and claim the championship.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
From Burgess to Boudjellal, Haskell to Honey Badgers and retirees to Retallick, here's the Quotes of 2014
It was another bumper year of rugby action in 2014; join us as we take a look back at some of the season's top statistics
Salary caps, Saints, sinners and scrums - Monday Maul looks back at the key talking points from an eventful weekend