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France vs Ireland: The Battle Of The Back Rows

CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 11: Jamie Heaslip of Ireland is closed down by Damien Chouly and Thierry Dusautoir of France during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between France and Ireland at Millennium Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

This weekend’s game between Ireland and France is going to be a tantalizing affair, with a France team looking to try and rebuild after Philippe Saint-Andre’s time as head coach, coming up against an Ireland side in relative transition and chasing a third Six Nations title in five years.

There are going to be many crucial battles fought in Paris this weekend but this writer wants to focus on the one concering the back rows. With France missing the talismanic Thierry Dusatoir, it is going to be very interesting to see how it goes and who will have the edge.

In terms of experience Ireland really have the upper hand with Jamie Heaslip, Seán O’Brien and CJ Stander boasting 130 caps between them (86, 43 and 1 respectively) while France only have 46 caps (Damien Chouly with 37, Wenceslas Lauret with 8 and Yacouba Camara with 1).

<> at Aviva Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.

At this level and especially in these positions, experience is absolutely crucial and no doubt Ireland will be the more street smart back row, that will be able to really push the boundaries at the breakdown and live on the edge, which leads us to the breakdown itself.

In Heaslip and O’Brien, Ireland have tried and tested pilferers who will be able to really make it difficult for France to generate much momentum and that all important quick ball. Add to that the extra muscle that Stander brings to the equation and we are looking at the very real possibility of Irish dominance in that part of the game. Camara, though full of potential, is still a very rough diamond and will find himself outmuscled at the breakdown and the French accuracy when it comes to the cleanout will have to be quite exceptional.

In terms of balance, Ireland are fielding a very balanced back row. O’Brien will not only provide his nous at the breakdown but also sheer aggression and dynamism both in the carry and in defence. He provides a physical presence that will be very important against the French. In Healsip there is that threat at the breakdown and an ability to link up with the backs in the wider channel. He is also a very dynamic ball carrier who brings with him a high skill level and will no doubt be able to take advantage of mismatches. He is also a good lineout option.

during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.

With Stander, also a threat at the breakdown, you get physicality and a high work rate. France have credible lineout options in all three of their back rowers and an ability to play a very open style ranging around the field but they lack the sheer physicality that Dusatoir and Picamoles brought to the table.

Chouly at number 8 will have to put in a big performance as he will be the one responsible for bringing the physicality in the absence of Picamoles as well as helping his flankers disrupt Irish ball.

Concerning leadership, Ireland have three leaders in their backrow and with that comes a certain amount of calm and control. France are lacking real leadership and the onus will be on Chouly to really step up here. Coupled with his other responsibilities in different areas, one wouldn’t be blamed for wondering if he is going to have too much on his plate to actually turn in a good performance.

Either way, we are faced with what could be an interesting battle, though signs point towards Irish supremacy. No doubt it will be a fast and physical encounter and as we all know rugby can sometimes be very unpredictable. The only thing for certain is that it will be an enthralling battle.

Gavin Nyawata, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.