Two sides that didn’t expect to be this far off the title in 2013 so soon – France, with three losses on their record already, looking more shell-shocked with every match, and Ireland, putting their great opener behind them with two consecutive losses.
Injuries seem to be the biggest cause for concern for the Irish, as both Simon Zebo and Jonathan Sexton have gone down during the campaign, leaving Brian O’Driscoll too alone in the creative think tank, and he can only do so much with the lack of talent around him. Ireland are still regretting those Paddy Jackson misses from against Scotland that cost them the match, but besides “ugly” kind of rugby, relying on his kicking, there’s not much to offer for the Irish these days, who have lost seven of their last nine matches against France including the World Cup encounters, with their 30-21 win at home in 2009 being their only one.
Cian Healy is making his return to the lineup, hoping that his chances for making the Lions team are still alive while Tom Court gets dumped; winger Fergus McFadden steps in for the injured Craig Gilroy; Lock Mike McCarthy steps in for Donncha O’Callaghan, while Stephen Archer and Devin Toner have been added to the bench.
For France, it’s not about the injuries, but about a complete destruction of their intimidation factor, as regardless of the talent thrown on the pitch, nothing seems to be working. Maybe the Top 14 isn’t that good? They’ve now lost three straight against Italy, England and Wales, with the Wooden Spoon looking very possible for the first time since 1999. They haven’t failed to win in a campaign since 1969, and haven’t been whitewashed since 1957.
All the eyes are turned to Wesley Fofana, which is probably part of the problem: Everyone is expecting the fantastic winger to do everything for them, but it simply isn’t working with so many key players, especially Frederic Michalak, looking out of form. Michalak makes his return to fly-half and will play next to Morgan Parra, while Francois Trinh-Duc gets benched. Maxime Medard will play for the first time in over a year for France after battling injury problems, while Florian Fritz takes over at outside centre instead of Mathieu Bastareaud, dropped to the bench.
Predictions – With every match, it seems that Ireland have less and less to give in terms of quality on the Rugby pitch. At some point, the French desperation should kick in and we’ll see a bit more from them, probably starting at Landsdowne road with a win.