Ireland or France could temporarily take the lead in the 2017 Six Nations standings on Saturday as they prepare to clash at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.
Both teams currently boast a record of one win and one loss coming into Week 3, although Ireland sit in second, a point ahead of Les Bleus after they claimed a winning bonus point against Italy in Week 2.
The two outfits are also bouncing back from slow starts to the competition, with Ireland having dropped to Scotland in Week 1, where the French fell 19-16 at the hands of champions England.
Saturday's showdown will give Ireland their homecoming after playing both of their matches thus far away from the Aviva Stadium, giving coach Joe Schmidt's men plenty of motivation for the clash.
Read on for a preview of Saturday's encounter, complete with all the essential viewing information to ensure you don't miss out on any of the action.
Date: Saturday, February 25
Time: 4:50 p.m. GMT/11:50 a.m. ET
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Live Stream: ITV Hub (UK)
TV Info: ITV (UK)
|2017 Six Nations Standings|
Wounded Powers Returning to Form
Having each tasted defeat in their 2017 Six Nations openers, both Ireland and France are well and truly on the road to recovery following wins over respective Week 2 opponents Italy and Scotland.
However, it's coach Guy Noves' side whom former Ireland lock Donal Lenihan believes is further ahead in their development at present, he recently told RTE Sport:
RTÉ Rugby @RTErugby
France are in much better shape in terms of preparation heading to face Ireland, says Donal Lenihan #rterugby https://t.co/feATjaWCVg2/20/2017, 8:59:37 PM
The victory over Scotland a fortnight ago means France are a prickly foe at present, and despite returning to the Aviva Stadium, Ireland could be at serious risk if they fail to get a secure start in Dublin.
In fact, Leinster and Ireland utility back Luke Fitzgerald recently told the Irish Independent that chasing a bonus point against the French should be a secondary concern:
"I personally would be going for the win first. If we have to get four tries against England on the last day, back yourself! We're at home.
"If we went 10-12 points up and we were playing really good rugby... we scored tries against New Zealand. We are capable of doing it against the best teams.
"I'd be content with a 3-0. A win is a win. I'd rather be in the competition until the last day at home against England."
Noves is hoping to stamp his mark on the French coaching position after a somewhat unconvincing debut season at the team's helm in 2016, and a win over Ireland would be a surefire way to do as much.
There's also the notion whichever team loses in Dublin on Saturday can effectively rule out any chance of contending for this year's title, meaning few players will require extra motivation for the outing.
Ireland's Back Line Surging
It's been an underlying theme of any promising Ireland play so far this year that their back line appears to piecing itself together well under Schmidt, somewhat thanks to the introduction of centre Garry Ringrose.
Granted, the Leinster back had a relatively easy outing against Italy, where he was among the scorers, but he's quickly built up a strong connection with midfield partner and club-mate Robbie Henshaw, he told The42.ie:
I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to play with him at Leinster because when it comes to Six Nations I get a little bit of a sense of where he might be.
I haven’t noticed too much of a difference. He gets through a mountain of work so it’s just trying to keep up with him. He also covers my a-- a bit, so I do feel lucky playing with him.
It works in Ringrose's favour that French centre Mathieu Bastareaud has been ruled out of Saturday's crunch clash with concussion, per The42.ie, meaning a large portion of any physical trial that was coming his way is now missing.
Keith Earls ran in two tries against Italy while stand-in winger Craig Gilroy grabbed a hat-trick, and Murray Kinsella of The42.ie also recently praised speedster Simon Zebo for his display in Rome:
Murray Kinsella @Murray_Kinsella
Superb from Simon Zebo, whose pirouette has been brilliant in the last two weeks. Might have offloaded to Rob Kearney here. https://t.co/T3OZAaqLwr2/12/2017, 9:53:57 AM
There are few teams in the world who can stop the Ireland juggernaut once it reaches full speed, and the back-line battle in particular is one that promises to dictate the swing of momentum on Saturday.
French full-back Scott Spedding offers a terrific threat of his own, however, as do Pacific Island-born wingers Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa, each of whom are sure to pose a great risk on Ireland's defence.