Ireland duel in Dublin vs France could be the Six Nations decider
I wouldn’t usually reveal my hand so early on in a Six Nations tournament, but I do think the winner of this match between Ireland and France will go on to claim the Championship this year.
Many have had the same view prior to the tournament and I back it, though Scotland could be the disruptor to any future Grand Slam hopes for Ireland and Les Bleus.
That said, if France play anything like they did against Italy last week when they visit world No1s Ireland, they’ve got no hope in hell.
Ireland and France talent to shine
Ireland were ruthless in Cardiff last week and know they’ve got home advantage against their fiercest opposition – England and France – in the 2023 Championship.
There’s talent across the park for Andy Farrell’s men and they managed to make relatively light work of Wales in round one, despite not having superstar prop Tadhg Furlong as well as first-choice scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park.
The four provinces were bruising against Warren Gatland’s side and blew Wales away early on, although the men in red had chances – which is more than I expected.
Looking at this weekend, however, there are a number of match-ups I am fascinated to watch play out.
The first of those is between Ireland loosehead Andrew Porter and French tighthead Uini Atonio, who are both solid scrummagers and good in the loose.
Atonio wasn’t entirely on top against Italy while Porter was key in dismantling Wales at the set-piece.
Expected to pack down head-to-head on Saturday, I am fascinated to see the dark arts at play and how the brilliant Wayne Barnes referees the contest between the two.
Elsewhere it is difficult to look beyond the two playmaking No10s on the pitch, Johnny Sexton and Romain Ntamack.
The two players are pivotal to the success of their sides, albeit France have much stronger depth in this position than Ireland do.
Ntamack is suave and classy with his play and often runs incredible lines that aid attacking moves.
Sexton takes the ball to the contact area, puts his body on the line but somehow manages to get straight back up ready for the next phase.
Farrell deployed Ross Byrne in the second half against Wales, but we wait to see whether the Leinsterman is seen as the long-term replacement for Sexton.
Centre of attack
The third monumental match-up to keep an eye on in Dublin on Saturday is the one between Garry Ringrose and Gael Fickou in the centres.
Both are great ball-carriers and talismanic for their teams. There’s a brilliant clip doing the rounds on social media of Ringrose stumbling but keeping his feet to make a try-saving tackle.
At the highest level you need players who you know you can rely on to get the job done – and Fickou and Ringrose are two of those.
All across the park there are brilliant battles which make this match such an important one for the Six Nations. Throw in three corking anthems and the buzz around Dublin and this round two match becomes heightened beyond belief.
But every team remains in the fight for the title, though this weekend could see those in the mix for the Grand Slam cut to one or two. The winners of the Dublin duel will be in contention while Scotland can remain in the hunt if they back up their Calcutta Cup victory over England with a home win against Wales.
Elsewhere Italy really have a chance of pulling off an upset in London against England but it will require some serious mental resilience to overcome such a physical encounter against the French, something we haven’t seen them do before.
China Sevens head coach Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.