Four tries against France, in Paris, with the championship at stake? Sign us up.
Ireland beat Italy 50-17 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday to kick off a tantalizing 2020 Guinness Six Nations final.
The bonus points victory put Ireland on 14 points, one ahead of England and France and with a greater points difference. England didn’t get their warm-up game against the Barbarians, but they will be favorites to collect five points and rack up a decent margin of victory against the Azzurri in Rome.
That would leave Eddie Jones’ men on 18 points. The advantage for Ireland and France is that their match starts at 8:05 pm and both teams will know exactly what they need. [the England vs. Italy game will wrap up around 7pm].
The French are in the most difficult position, as a victory for England with a bonus point would most likely force them to beat Ireland by a significant margin (a conservative estimate would be 20 points). Ireland could still beat the league on points difference without the try score bonus, but that could turn out to be nervous stuff.
AS IT IS…
The result that would guarantee Ireland their fourth Six Nations Championship since 2014 would be to win in Paris and get the tryout bonus point while they are there.
That question was the elephant in the room (or Lansdowne Road) on Saturday, during Andy Farrell’s post-game briefing. Everyone knows that a bonus points win would seal the title, but Farrell and his players want to avoid such mentions before the game.
Asked about his dominant emotion ahead of next Saturday’s game at the Stade de France, the Ireland head coach commented:
“Well the biggest problem is making sense of next week and we certainly managed to do that. We certainly always want to have a chance in the last game to try to win the trophy.
“It’s a big old request to go to Paris and try to win. Obviously the French have a fantastic team… It’s always a big demand to go and win there but we have started the campaign and we have gotten into the next week with a chance. We have a lot to sort out, which you would expect after the first week, but that also puts us in a good position for next week. “
In terms of team selection for the game, there isn’t much we would change with the starting lineup or the bench. Garry Ringrose is out for four to six weeks after breaking his jaw in the win over Italy, so this is the only big area Farrell will tackle.
His options are to start Robbie Henshaw at 13, which is what we would choose to do, or to draft with Chris Farrell or Stuart McCloskey and leave the versatile Henshaw on the bench.
If Farrell opts for Henshaw, then he has to choose who steps in as the back cover on the bench. Farrell and McCloskey look set to go head-to-head, but Shane Daly can cover any position on the baseline and, we’ve heard, Keith Earls is back in training. It would be a lot to ask Earls to step right into the testing arena, but he’s a proven artist at this point and has produced the products in Paris before.
Otherwise, we would go again with a relatively unchanged team. There is an option to bring in Josh van der Flier as a new back line option and Jack Carty could be adapted for looser attacking play if Ireland felt the bonus point was activated.
Our Ireland team against France
15. Jacob Stockdale
14. Andrew Conway
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Hugo Keenan
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray
1. Cian Healy
2. Rob Herring
3. Andrew Porter
4. James Ryan
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Caelan Doris
7. Will Connors
8. CJ Stander
Submarines: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Chris Farrell.