Frédéric Michalak will need to produce one of his mercurial performances if France are to overcome Ireland in Cardiff on Sunday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The clash between these two Six Nations competitors should make for an enthralling contest in the World Cup's penultimate pool fixture, with the winner set to top Pool D and avoid the mighty All Blacks in the quarter-finals.
Michalak has wound back the clock to make the French No 10 jersey his own and he has again produced some magical moments during this World Cup.
The French wizard delivered a Man-of-the-Match performance against Canada and also marked the occasion by becoming the highest point-scorer in French World Cup history, overtaking Thierry Lacroix's tally of 124.
He has an incredible record against Ireland, having been part of six wins and a draw, and he will be hoping to have the Midas touch once again on Sunday.
One still never knows what quite to expect from France, and although they’ve secured three comfortable wins at the tournament, they’ve been far from awe-inspiring.
Similarly, Ireland have flown under the radar to a degree, and they also may well look to their influential flyhalf Johnny Sexton to spark them into action at this tournament.
The battle between Ireland’s midfield duo of Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls and that of France’s power pairing in Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud should also heighten the intrigue of this encounter.
For France’s backline, and particularly Michalak to be at his best, Les Bleus will need to secure quick ball at the breakdown, and in this regard Thierry Dusautoir will aim to negate the influence of Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien.
There’s unlikely to be much separating these two evenly-matched sides at the final whistle, but with top spot and an easier route to the semi-finals on the cards for the winner, there’s everything to play for.
MICHALAK’S STATS THAT MATTER
33 – World Cup points scored
6 – Defenders beaten
5 – Carries over gainline
HEAD TO HEAD
France 55, Ireland 31, Draw 7
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Brice Dulin, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Bernard le Roux, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Alexandre Dumoulin.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Nathan White, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images