Six Nations: Ireland’s search for a 10th straight win, and an unbeaten year to Paris.

Ireland players dejected after France defeat
Ireland lost to France in France at home one year ago, as they started the Six Nations with backward defeats
Venue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, February 12 Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage:Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. Live audio and text commentary is available on the BBC Sport website.

Perhaps the general feeling of depression that pervades the Irish rugby team from a year ago is a product of place and time.

Ireland's fans turned to their team as a distraction during another lockdown, with Europe still under the grips by the pandemic.

Their dismay, there was no relief. It was a particularly difficult loss to France in Week 2 of Six Nations. The score of 15-13 belied the ease with which Fabien Gallthie's side won in Dublin.

Both the trajectories of each side could not have been more different – and yet, here we are twelve months later.

France has stayed true to their word; they are a formidable swashbuckling power. A year ago, few would have imagined that Ireland would be there alongside them.

Ireland will be seeking a 10th consecutive win in Paris, after not losing since February. The team and the mood are transformed.

What have we learned and what are our expectations for Ireland as they prepare to play in a game that will be a blockbuster?

The good: Front row union

Last year's match against France was the most significant example of Andy Farrell's expectations for his forwards.

Ireland came in second against a French pack that was hot. They were well stuffed and had a lot of speed.

The total length of the starting front row was two metres, including nine carries and two passes.

It looked like Ireland could play all day behind that platform, before finding the try line – until a loose soccer ball bounced into Ronan Kelleher's arms for a late score.

It was hard to believe that Ireland's forward unit would be the global standard bearer in one year.

Ireland props graphic

This is in no small part due to the coming together Leinster trio Andrew Porter Kelleher and Tadhg furlong, who were not together in green before the opening autumn match against Japan.

The average game length for the last four games was 61m. This compares to the average of 23m for the first 16 matches under Farrell's reign.

They have almost tripled the number of passes per game to 11, and have averaged 25 carries per match. Before Farrell, Farrell's three front-line players were only carrying 15 times per game.

Carbery's largest Test

Johnny Sexton is Ireland's best fly-half.

For a decade, the captain was involved in every aspect of what we've seen on the side. Even in this week where a hamstring injury forces him into a consulting position, his influence will be felt as he travels to Paris along with the team.

While Joey Carbery's Saturday performance will likely be compared with Sexton's, it is hard to ignore the fact that Sexton's performance was better. But maybe it is wiser to keep as far as possible.

It is remarkable that Carbery has yet to make a Six Nations debut despite his terrible injury history.

Joey Carbery
Carbery was penalized three times late to help Ireland defeat the All Blacks in November

He has held the title “heir to Sexton” for six years and has been in as many teams as he can. He has also played a part in some of Ireland’s greatest wins, most notably against New Zealand in 2016 as well as again in 2021.

Yet, it still feels as though we don’t know much about the 26-yearold Test level.

Farrell stressed that the spotlight wasn't on Carbery, but on the entire team upon learning of his selection. Although it was partially an attempt to displace the spotlight from Farrell, it is a genuine belief that the system Ireland has implemented should be able withstand any personnel changes.

This means that Carbery's best scenario would see the fly-half blend in with Ireland as they roll.

Point to prove: Are you ready for a statement away win?

Saturday will mark the second occasion that Farrell will take his team to an away match against a passionate crowd.

It has been 24 years since Ireland last played before a full house. This was the Six Nations loss against England, which proved to be their last pre-pandemic game.

While empty stadiums may have diluted the home/away factor in Ireland, it is clear that four of Ireland's five defeats under Farrell came away from home.

Silverware aside, a win away is the most prominent absence from the current regime. Two years ago, Ireland traveled to Paris to try for the title but was dismissed by a French team that was stronger, more in sync and ultimately more successful.

France, too has taken their game to new heights since the last game. Saturday's game will not take place on Ireland's terms, as it was last weekend.

Irish fans hope that there is a difference between this meeting and the recent ones. It is because Farrell's side are more used to forcing their will on the opposition than vice versa.

France's Paris trip today presents Test rugby's greatest challenge. Ireland is aiming for their 10th consecutive win and believes they are well-positioned to do so.

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