Ireland v France: Everything you need to know

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France must address their away day Bleus ahead of a crucial Six Nations clash against Ireland, who will be boosted by the return of influential fly-half Jonathan Sexton.

Having been narrowly beaten by England at Twickenham in their opening match of the tournament, France defeated Scotland in a full-blooded contest in Paris to get their campaign back on track.

In similar fashion, Ireland lost out to Scotland in round one but trounced Italy last time around.

Both teams can ill afford to lose in Dublin, and France have the added incentive of attempting to avoid a fifth consecutive away loss in the competition, which would represent their worst run of away defeats since the 1950s (when only five teams contested the tournament).

However, Guy Noves - who makes three changes - will be fully aware of the difficulty they face against an Ireland team that has not lost in their past nine Six Nations home games.

Furthermore, Joe Schmidt is boosted by the return of Sexton, who starts despite the impressive displays of understudy Paddy Jackson, following his recovery from a calf injury sustained playing for Leinster last month, while captain Rory Best is back after recovering from an illness.

 

HEAD TO HEAD

Ireland: 32
France: 56
Draw: 7

 

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?

Having drawn their opening match with Wales, Ireland were looking to get their title defence up and running but fell short 10-9 in Paris thanks to Maxime Medard's late try.

However, Ireland were left fuming by 'cheap shots' from Les Bleus, with Sexton and Dave Kearney the victims of controversial late tackles from Yoann Maestri and Guilhem Guirado.

By the end of the match, Sean O'Brien and Mike McCarthy had also suffered injuries and the battered Irish were ultimately unable to defend their crown.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) 

A calf complaint meant that Sexton, who has well-documented issues with injury, was absent for the opening two rounds. But the number 10 returns at a crucial stage for Ireland and his accuracy off the tee and skill with ball in hand may prove the difference against Les Bleus.

Rabah Slimani (France) 

France have plenty of physicality, but Noves has opted for a more mobile option in Slimani ahead of powerhouse Uini Atonio in the front row.

 

THE LINE-UPS

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best (captain), Tadhg Furlong, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner, CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip. 

France: Scott Spedding, Yoann Huget, Remi Lamerat, Gael Fickou, Noa Nakaitaci, Camille Lopez, Baptiste Serin, Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Bernard le Roux, Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Cyril Baille.  

COACH COMMENTS

Joe Schmidt (Ireland): "We have a fair bit of faith in Nigel to make sure things are kept in check and that includes us. We have to make sure that our discipline is good and we don't transgress." - With Nigel Owens refereeing, Schmidt is sure there will be no repeat of the ugly challenges that marred last season's contest.

Guy Noves (France): "This is the most important match in this tournament because it is the one we play on Saturday. But it is no more important than the next match. Ireland, unquestionably, are one of the best nations. They are the only team that beat New Zealand."



OPTA STATS

- Only one of the last 10 Six Nations games between these teams has been decided by a double-digit margin, including draws in 2012 and 2013.

- France have lost each of their last four games away from home in the Six Nations, the last time they went on a longer such streak in the tournament was in the Five Nations between 1956-1958 (5 games).

- Ireland are unbeaten at home in nine Six Nations matches (W7, D2), giving up just one potential losing bonus point in that run (v France in 2015).