9 lives

At the start of the 2019 Six Nations campaign, scrum-halves Conor Murray and Antoine Dupont were in very different places on the Test rugby landscape. 

The former was part of an Irish team looking to kick on from the previous year's grand slam and in the form of his life. The Toulouse man, after a number of appearances off the bench – he was on the pitch in Paris for Johnny Sexton’s match-winning drop goal that kick-started the championship victory - was outside the match-day squad for the opening round tie against Wales, Baptise Serin preferred for a place on the bench. 

By the time they crossed path in the penultimate round of games, things had already begun to change. Dupont had forced his way into the starting team, a position he has held firm on since, while Murray’s form, along with that of his team-mates, had begun to drop off somewhat from the highs of 2018. 

Ireland got the better of Les Bleus on the day - a 19-point interval defecit was too great an ask for the visitors to reverse – but there were signs of what the gifted Frenchman could offer. 

Curiously, in both of his Six Nations outings as a starter against Ireland, he has had to contend with less possession and territory. In Dublin two years ago, Dupont played 14 minutes longer than his opposite number, but his pass count was nearly half that of Murray’s (84 v 45). The French man however is more of an elusive player in open play. 

In last October’s rearranged fixture, he was an all-action presence. He set the tone with the first try of the game, and made more carries and metres carried than any other French player in the 35-27 win. His all-round game was in full display, and he had more kicks (15) than Sexton and Murray combined (14) to keep the Irish defence guessing. 

He picked up the Player of the Tournament award and took up where he left off last weekend in the defeat of Italy, running in a try in a man of the match performance. 

Little wonder former French head coach Philippe Saint-André says Dupont reminds him of Brian O'Driscoll in his ability to inspire team-mates and his influence on the game will have a huge say on whether Andy Farrell’s side get their title bid up and running. 

Getting their kicks

There were a number of areas where Ireland fell short in the standards they set themselves against Wales, but a repeat performance from the boot and it is nigh on impossible to see this French team failing to take advantage. 

Billy Burns' failure to find touch at the death was the most high-profile, but the malaise had been there throughout the contest. His earlier kick out of hand, where he tried to punt to the wing but went out on the full, put a disheartening halt to the attack, while Johnny Sexton also fell short with some touch finders.

The French will fancy their chances of running anything back that comes their way. 

As Bernard Jackman highlighted earlier this week, the kick-offs too were a problem, repeatedly finding Welsh captain Alun Wyn-Jones in fine aerial form.

"You've conceded a score and you kick it to their talisman who deals with it and because of where the pod is, you've only moved the play up 15 metres and also they're outside the '22," he said. 

"It's very comfortable for them to box kick back from that possession there. I think they did that four times, which was strange." 

Again, failure to challenge in the air and offering the visitors a strong platform to attack could prove disastrous. 

O'Connell influence?

The presence of Paul O'Connell in the Irish coaching team meant it was perhaps inevitable that an upturn in fortunes regarding the lineout would be attributed largely to the iconic Limerick man.

O'Connell would certainly baulk at the somewhat simplistic explanation.

After such high standards under Joe Schmidt, it had begun to creak a little, coughing up three crucial lineouts in Paris last October.

Wales on the other hand had lost just eight of of 70 throws in the 2020 Championship. Even in victory on Sunday, Ireland picked them off on four occasions, with Tadhg Beirne arguably the most effective performer in green and Iain Henderson making an impact off the bench.

It should be noted that two throws went awry, but the men in green were doing more disrupting then being disrupted themselves.

O'Connell will be offering plenty of expertise to the forward unit, but maintaining the standard set last weekend with the darts will be a huge building block to getting the campaign back on track.

Follow Ireland v France (kick-off 3pm) on Sunday via our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport. Highlights on Against the Head, Monday at 8pm on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.