Possession is nine-tenths of the law. A phrase derived from the Scottish expression "possession is eleven points in the law, but there are twelve." Those canny Edinburgh lawyers must have known a thing or two because Ireland lost this year's Six Nations opener to Scotland at Murrayfield despite having most of the ball. It may not have paid off a few weeks ago, but possession looks set to be a crucial factor in this weekend's battle against France at the Aviva Stadium.
With the ball Ireland can wear down the massive French forwards keeping them on the move with long passages of high tempo play. Without possession they face the exhausting task of defending against a highly physical team and staying alert to the threat of their offloading game. The battle of the breakdown is always key, but it seems vital that Jamie Heaslip, CJ Stander and Sean O'Brien have a good day against their opposite numbers in the back row, Bernard Le Roux, Kevin Gourdon and the impressive Louis Picamoles, who was named man of the match in France's recent defeat to England at Twickenham.
The weather could also be a vital factor this weekend. Leinster secured their place in the Champions Cup quarter finals with an eight try demolition of Montpellier on a dry RDS pitch last month. They lost to the same team in France in October, when soaking conditions slowed down the game, playing into the hands of the big Montpellier men. It was raining in Paris last year when a late Maxime Medard try handed France their first win over Ireland in five encounters. The forecast suggests that Saturday's game will kick off in dry conditions, before rain falls in the second half. So Joe Schmidt's team may need to hit the ground running.
It was Johnny Sexton's inspired pass that allowed Isa Nacewa to open the scoring in Leinster's big win over Montpellier, and it is a huge boost that he is back in the Green number ten shirt for this must win encounter. Few players would come straight back into a Test team after a five week injury absence, but Sexton is different. He had a man of the match performance against France two years ago after returning from a three month break due to concussion and since his days at Racing Metro always seems to have a point to prove against the French.
Ireland used to head into games against France with trepidation. They were beaten in every match in the 17 years before Brian O'Driscoll's famous hat trick in 2000. The fear factor has diminished in recent years. The victory in Paris to help clinch the 2014 Six Nations title, the first ever World Cup win over France in Cardiff 16 months ago and the Provinces successes against the Top 14 teams have all helped. France haven't won in Dublin in 6 years, but all but one of the last 9 encounters between these two teams have been one score games, and Les Blues are a team on the rise.
France have become far more organised under Guy Noves. They are taking the Six Nations seriously again by keeping their players away from the Top 14 during the tournament. They were close to beating New Zealand and Australia in the Autumn, and almost ended England's unbeaten run at Twickenham a few weeks ago.
Ireland are still smarting from their poor start against Scotland at Murrayfield. The win over All Blacks at Soldier Field showed Joe Schmidt's men can beat any side on their day. They now face a match where neither side can afford to lose. Home advantage may be the factor behind the bookmakers view that Ireland will win by seven. To do that, Irish Captain Rory Best says they will have to exceed their performance against New Zealand in Chicago.
Ireland v France in the Round 3 of the 2017 RBS Six Nations Championship kicks off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday at 4.50pm