Ireland play their biggest game of the Rugby World Cup so far today. Victory against France means an extra day of rest and the challenge of Argentina in the semi-finals. Defeat means a six-day turnaround before facing the undisputed no. 1 team in the world, and the defending champions New Zealand.
Ireland haven't lost to France since 2011 in the World Cup warm-ups, and you'd expect that Joe Schmidt has a plan to deal with a French team that has lost some of it's flair in recent years. That said, France remain a dangerous proposition. Their game is based on power and skill, and here are the three main areas of concern for Ireland today.
There aren't too many players in rugby like Mathieu Bastareaud. The bulldozing centre can run over opposition players, and it takes a number of defenders to bring him to the ground. This should mean that there is space elsewhere in the defensive line that France can exploit.
To counter-act Bastareaud there are two options they can use. One option is to hit him low, and chop him to the ground. This should mean that even the smallest plaeyrs will be able to bring Bastareaud to the ground, allowing O'Brien, Best, or O'Connell an opportunity to get over the ball at the breakdown. The negative to the chop tackle, is that it leaves Ireland susceptible to an offload.
One way to avoid an offload, and to slow down the ball is a tactic that Ireland use a lot - the choke tackle. This requires several tacklers to hit Bastareaud high - targeting the ball so that the Frenchman can't get the ball away quickly. The downside is that Bastareaud is so strong, that Ireland need to be highly accurate to avoid losing yards and to efficiently effect the turnover.
The Toulouse No.8 was one of the best players in the world a few years ago, before injuries and a lack of form hampered him. But now with a full pre-season under his belt - Picamoles is back and looks in great shape. He's lot weight, and is still a ball-carrier to be feared.
He was outstanding in the first game against Italy, and his form should be sending warning signs to Ireland. Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony will have their hands full with Picamoles and Bastareaud - who along with hooker Guirado will provide the majority of the go forward momentum for the French.
What a maverick Freddie Michalak is. On his day, he can tear through even the best of defences with his magical skills and deceit. It was his virtuoso performances that ended Ireland's World Cup hopes in both 2003 and 2007. Ireland know that an on-form Michalak is dangerous. An on form Michalak like the one that tore through Italy in the first game.
We don't know what's gotten into Freddie, but he's on form. With Ireland's centre combination only playing their second game together - France will be looking to use Bastareaud to create space, and Michalak is the king of being able to exploit it to maximum effect.
If Ireland can put enough pressure on Michalak, he can crumble. When he's off his game - things go south very quickly. Ireland's forwards need to dominate their French counter-parts and don't allow Michalak to get comfortable with an armchair ride.