How they match up: Simon Lewis looks at the key battles


France: Not a vintage pack performance against the robust Azzurri scrum and loosehead Vincent Debaty and hooker William Servat have been replaced this week by Jean-Baptiste Poux, their World Cup starter, and Dimitri Szarzewski. The changes don’t weaken this unit and even by last week’s showing, the threat should not be underestimated, as France scored their second try against Italy off stolen scrum ball, Louis Picamoles launching off the base to set up Julien Malzieu.


Ireland: Solid outing against a somewhat makeshift Welsh pack last week and edged the battle in a high-power contest. As a warm-up for this weekend’s greater challenge it was a welcome workout at the highest level and another game in the books for the Healy/Best/Ross front-row combination. 4/5


France: An untidy outing against Italy, head coach Philippe Saint-Andre has shuffled his pack for the imminent arrival of Paul O’Connell and co tonight. Pascal Pape is retained and will partner 6ft 6ins Yohann Maestri, preferred to Lionel Nallet, to give France more height. Imanol Harinordoquy in for Julian Bonnaire in the back row adds another quality lineout operator in a bid to match the Irish. 3.5/5

Ireland: One of the big plus points from the defeat to Wales was the strength of the Irish lineout. Caught napping on the first Wales throw but after that the Irish made hay. Four steals from four different players, the last from substitute Donnacha Ryan leading to Ireland’s second try. 5/5


France: The French lacked some accuracy and patience in the tackle area against Italy last Saturday and the inclusion of Yoann Maestri, replacing Lionel Nallet in the second row, not only gives Philippe Saint-André extra height in the lineout but added bite at the breakdown, as will Imanol Harinordoquy, back at the expense of Julian Bonnaire. 3.5/5

Ireland: Wales gave Ireland a tough, physical and aggressive challenge at ruck time, constantly putting pressure on scrum-half Conor Murray and frequently winning the battle. There were precious turnovers but plenty of lost ball too and good attacking positions were squandered. The discipline was for the most part good and when it wasn’t Priestland’s poor place-kicking meant Ireland weren’t punished. Halfpenny did make them pay, though, and another solid kicker like Morgan Parra can do the same. 3/5


France: The left boot of Dimitri Yachvili will be absent, meaning the equally consistent Morgan Parra takes over place-kicking duties at scrum-half while outside him Francois Trinh-Duc created a try for Vincent Clerc with a clever chip behind the Italy defence and then a wonderfully improvised kick ahead with the outside of his boot. 3.5/5

Ireland: One of the major concerns for Declan Kidney and his coaches following the Wales defeat will have been the tactical kicking Jonny Sexton and his fellow backs. Far too many went down the throats of the dangerous Welsh back three and hard-earned ball was given away all too cheaply. A big improvement in decision-making and execution is vital for Irish success tonight. 2.5/5


France: Les Bleus were slow to hit their marks after just six training sessions with new coach Saint-André but still managed to show telling glimpses of their flair and elusive hard-running in attack and counter-attack, both centres and wings each scoring exceptionally well-taken tries to beat Italy at Stade de France. And there’s more to come, you feel. 4.5/5

Ireland: When the Irish got into their opponents’ 22, they scored and did so with some clinical finishing. Trouble was, they didn’t get there nearly often enough. Despite the promise of expansive rugby, Ireland failed to penetrate with any regularity and under great pressure from the Welsh, the handling went awry at times. 3/5

Totals: France: 19/25

Ireland: 17.5/25

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