Ireland Six Nations Campaign Requires Winning Start

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Kildare , Ireland - 1 February 2018; Jonathan Sexton, centre, during Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. (Photo By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

On the face of it, France vs Ireland on Saturday evening is a bit of a mismatch. It sees the hosts, playing their first game under their new Head Coach, against the stable and always building Irish. Add into the mix the form of the premier Irish provinces in Europe, the form book points only to one winner. However as in 2017, the Ireland Six Nations campaign could be undone in Round One. They must hit the ground running.

Favourable Fixture List To Set Up Finale

As with the 2017 tournament, Ireland face England on the final day. Many hoped that this would be the Grand Slam decider between the two best teams on paper. As we know, Scotland ended this dream in Round One with a 27-22 win over Ireland. The men in green were always playing catch-up and not even becoming the first side to defeat Eddie Jones’ England got them close to first place.

The pressure on the Irish after losing in Round One was too great, and they succumbed to Wales in Round Four. Not much went right for the Emerald green last year.

But this year, with the fixtures reversed, Ireland have three successive home games from Rounds Two-Four. We should expect of a team coached by the meticulous Joe Schmidt that they won’t take a Round One victory as given again. Whilst the French are perhaps even more unpredictable than usual with a new coach and new caps, Schmidt knows French Rugby and will surely prepare his team well.

Any sort of win in the Stade de France, that will surely be followed up by a victory at home to Italy, will put them in a great position. By the end of Round Three, where England face the very tricky trip to Murrayfield, the Ireland Six Nations campaign could be hitting top gear.

Fewest Injuries of all Nations

Going back to the here and now, the Irish squad is in almost peak condition and form. They have relatively few big-name injuries unlike rivals, and Leinster and Munster have been firing in the Champions Cup. The fact that seven of the eight replacements come from Leinster speaks for their current strength.

Perhaps more importantly though are the key, established combinations that Schmidt can name. The Murray-Sexton half-back axis is present, along with the tried and tested Healy-Best-Furlong front row. This consistency has allowed the New Zealand coach to drop in three Six Nations debutants: Bundee Aki, James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale.

Team Selections for Round One

Predictably the Irish line-up is dominated by Leinster and Munster players, but the Ulster experience in the pack from Rory Best and Iain Henderson will also be vital.

Meanwhile here is Jacques Brunel’s first selection as French Head Coach. He includes 19 year old Matthieu Jalibert at fly-half, who has been in fine form in the Top 14 as reported by Last Word on Rugby back in November.

France vs Ireland

Ireland’s last visit to Paris saw them succumb to a late 10-9 defeat in 2016. A repeat result would have to go down as an upset, which is why Ireland have to be so careful.

France vs Ireland kicks off at 4.45pm (GMT) on Saturday 3rd February.

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