France v Ireland | Sunday 11 October | Millennium Stadium, Cardiff | 17:45
The battle for Pool D supremacy reaches its climax on Sunday evening with the much-fancied Irish taking on the an impressive French team. Having already qualified for the quarter-finals the two sides will now duke it out to see who claims top spot in the pool.
While both sides obviously want to maintain their unbeaten runs at the tournament, the main driving factor for victory here will be the fact that the winner avoids the All Blacks in the quarters. While Argentina have been good in 2015, no one wants to draw the All Blacks at this stage of the tournament. Both sides will be going all out to ensure they end up playing the Argentinians rather than the world’s number-one ranked side.
The 94th installment in this great rivalry is likely to go down as one of the classics. Make sure you’ve got your bets placed, you’re not going to want to miss a minute of this one.
To Win (80 Mins)
France (+9.5) 9/10
Ireland (-9.5) 9/10
Le Bleu have shown an eerie consistency at this year’s tournament. A more conservative approach has seen them run out comfortable victors in the three games they’ve played thus far. Whilst it hasn’t been vintage French rugby, it has been successful.
One man who illustrates this change in approach is their mercurial pivot, Frederic Michalak. The former Sharks man has shown moments of magic (a classy backhand flick in Frances's last outing, being a perfect example of this) but has been a lot more controlled in his approach. His decision making has been excellent while his tactical kicking has been Wilkinson-esque. The battle between the veteran Frenchman and Jonathan Sexton is going to be intriguing to watch.
On to the stats that matter, and the French have scored 110 points from their three group fixtures. Their defence has been solid as well, with only 39 points conceded thus far, at an average of 13 points per game.
The Tricolores have the upper hand when it comes to World Cup encounters played between the two sides. They have met twice at past tournaments. The first match came at Kings Park in 1995 – the French win the game by 36 points to 12. The second encounter came at the 2007 event and saw the French win by 43 points to 21.
Joe Schmidt’s men overcame a dogged Italian side last Sunday at the Olympic Stadium. The win saw them move to the top of the pool D standings. They now come up against a reinvigorated French side in a winner takes all encounter.
This will be the first true test the Irish face at the tournament. While their displays against the minnows have been impressive, they are yet to face one of the top seeded sides. The Irish fans may well be celebrating their team’s qualification success, however, they may want to save their best bottles of whisky for Sunday night.
Whether that whisky will be enjoyed in celebration or used as a pain reliever is still up for debate. As mentioned earlier the loser will take on the All Blacks at the Millennium stadium next weekend. And while the Irish have been in fantastic form, they will know you can never write off the French.
Two men who could greatly advance the men in green’s table topping chances are fullback Rob Kearney and centre Jared Payne. Both men sat out last weekend’s clash against the Italians but look to be well on the road to recovery. Kearney’s glute strain has cleared up, while the swelling on Payne’s ankle is said to have gone down drastically.
The Irish stats almost mirror those of the French. The men from the Emerald Isle have scored 111 points thus far while only conceding 26. They have also scored 14 tries from their opening 3 games at an average of 4.6 per game. While their World Cup record against the French isn’t great, they did beat Le Bleus in the Six Nations earlier this year.
Verdict: Ireland 13/20
The Irish have been one of World Rugby’s form teams this year and I don’t see that letting up. I think the men in green will have too much quality for Le Bleu to handle.
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