France v Ireland predictions: Hosts can edge crucial Paris battle | Sports News

Shaun Botteril

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Gabin Villière can inspire France to a key victory

Shaun Botteril

Free rugby union tips, best bets and analysis for France v Ireland in the Six Nations on Saturday.

where to watch

ITV & Virgin Media One, 4.45pm Saturday

Best bet

France wins by 1 to 12 points
2pts 13-8 bet fred

Match preview

France and Ireland were the teams that caught the eye in the first round of the Six Nations and they were virtually neck and neck in title betting after the weekend’s matches, but news from the team made sure that France took advantage.

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton was ruled out of Saturday’s clash in Paris which had been billed as the title decider, and if a single absence can have an effect on a match, it’s this one.

Barely a year ago, Ireland were pilloried for their lack of attacking invention, but nine consecutive wins, including victories over England and New Zealand, have turned things around and the victory of the last week against Wales showed that the Irish were at their best.

They played to the beat, recycling and moving the ball quickly with waves of attacking players making loop runs to vary the point of attack and keep the opposing defense guessing.

This game plan seemed tailor-made for taking on France, a large, bulky side who in the past have struggled to keep their form against teams that move the ball quickly.

But the plan also seemed heavily dependent on Sexton, who has been the heart of the team for years.

In his absence, Munster’s Joey Carbery starts, and he has established himself as Andy Farrell’s preferred replacement. Carbery started both summer Tests while Sexton was away with the Lions, closing out the win over the All Blacks and also came on just after the hour mark against Wales.

But the 18 minutes he played last weekend were his first since sustaining the injury in December and he coolly arrives at a hugely important role.

One player shouldn’t make all the difference, but the change at fly-half is a definite turn in France’s favor in a game that has boiled down to handsome margins for more than a decade.

Since 2011, the teams have met 11 times in the Six Nations. France have won four times, including the last two, Ireland five and there have been two draws. None of the games were won by a margin of more than 12 points.

It looks set to be just as tight again, but in a hostile Stade de France and against a powerful French pack, Ireland need their attack and shots, and they look set to fall just wide.

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