LONDON • Ireland must overcome the "fear factor" to beat France in their World Cup pool decider today, with the winners avoiding a quarter-final clash with the All Blacks, according to coach Joe Schmidt.
A classic is expected, with the finesse of Ireland's Jonny Sexton against the power of France's Mathieu Bastareaud.
The winners of the Pool D clash will miss defending champions New Zealand in the last eight.
Both the French and Irish teams have come through their first three pool games unbeaten.
Ireland will be pool winners in the event of a draw and similar bonus points.
POOL D: FRANCE V IRELAND
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On paper, it was always going to come down to this final game, with Six Nations rivals Italy out of the picture along with Canada and Romania.
"From a training perspective and from a preparation perspective, we know things have to be racheted up, we know that based on our performance last week against our first tier one opponent," said Schmidt.
"Inevitably, there is a fear factor. If they get a roll on, if they get some of their big athletes up and running, we know we could be in trouble."
Schmidt has made three changes to his starting XV from the team who battled to a gritty 16-9 win over Italy, having easily beaten Canada (50-5) and Romania (44-10).
Devin Toner comes in for Iain Henderson at lock, Rob Kearney replaces Simon Zebo at full-back and Cian Healy takes over from Jack McGrath at loose-head prop.
"I'm expecting a really combative game," said Schmidt. "They're always very narrow margins."
France under coach Philippe Saint-Andre have failed to beat Ireland in his four games in charge, although the former winger never lost as a player.
The coach has recalled dynamic No. 8 Louis Picamoles and Fiji-born winger Noa Nakaitaci, the duo both having started the first two matches, but having sat out the most recent 41-18 win over Canada.
Damien Chouly switches from No. 8 against Canada to openside flanker in the one positional change.
"I've said it before and I repeat it now: my players are starving for this game. They've had this match in their heads for a very long time," Saint-Andre said.
"It's an exceptional match to play in, against a leading nation in world rugby. It will be a match with an enormous amount of intensity."