France had a lucky escape last Saturday but it could be a different story against Ireland.
France had a lucky escape last Saturday at the Stade de France against Italy. They battled back from an eight-point deficit early in the second-half to lead 23-21 and then watched an injury-time drop goal from Azzurri number eight and captain Sergio Parisse lurch wide of the posts.
And another close Paris clash looks on the cards against Ireland this Saturday, with no final result a shock - so back Ireland with a two-point handicap start and have a saver on Ireland/France in the half-time/full-time market.
Ireland beat Les Bleus 24-9 in a real battle at last year's World Cup to make it five games unbeaten in the sides' recent meetings. These include a nervy 22-20 Paris win in the final round two years ago to claim the Six Nations title and a 17-17 draw in France four years ago. Paul O'Connell became the latest Irish legend to retire after the World Cup and there are six injuries to frontline forwards but a spine of this team in green participated in most of those clashes. And more of away head coach Joe Schmidt's squad appeared in Paris two years ago than those in the home 23, including two-try wing Andrew Trimble.
Schmidt also finally had some good news on the injury-front in midweek. Full-back Rob Kearney and backrower Sean O'Brien have overcome the hamstring strains that forced them to miss Sunday's draw with Wales and fly-half Johnny Sexton is fit after coming off with a sore shoulder late on in Dublin.
Forecast rain should suit the likely Ireland tactics of pack power - a solid set-piece backed up by three tremendous ball-carriers in O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Sunday's man of the match CJ Stander - and territorial containment through the tactical kicking of Sexton, Kearney and centres Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw.
Ireland will be keen to deny Sevens specialist Virimi Vakatawa, fellow flyer Teddy Thomas and livewire full-back Maxime Medard space and time on the ball. The best way to do that will be to kick in behind the wings and be fast up in defence in midfield, where Maxime Mermoz replaces Gael Fickou and there may be some miscommunication. Rain should limit the early ambitions of France too. If Les Bleus were complacent last weekend, they won't be this but equally clearly they need to prioritise shoring up their defence against the rolling maul after conceding two tries following Azzurri drives. And they must do that without their most-influential forward Louis Picamoles. Picamoles tore a hamstring in creating France's first try against Italy for Vakatawa.
New head coach Guy Noves's response has been to be pragmatic with his push for flair by picking three tackle-hungry backrowers in Wenceslas Lauret, Yacouba Camara and Damien Chouly. Sebastien Bezy and Jules Plisson are also a new partnership at half-back for France and don't yet offer the calm control of Sunday tryscorer Conor Murray and Sexton.
However, a French surge should be expected in the second half as they find fluency and Ireland's six-day turnaround takes a toll. Indeed, Noves has probably held back his rampaging props Eddy Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani for this purpose and time period. Ben Arous and Slimani cause havoc both at scrums and in the loose and they make France to score the last try the bet that appeals most of all.
If it is tight as expected then Ireland will be looking to maintain the squeeze and Les Bleus will be the more expansive and urgent. If France are rampant then it will be hard for Ireland to hold them. And if Ireland are clear then Noves and the crowd will demand some consolation and Les Bleus will push hard to the end to provide it.
Two years ago France got the last try but Ireland still prevailed and four years ago, Wesley Fofana got Les Bleus' sole try in the second half after Tommy Bowe scored two before the break.