Kidney plays down expectations
February 6, 2009
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Coach Declan Kidney has played expectations ahead of Ireland's Six Nations opener against France by warning they are as dangerous as ever.
Ireland are favourites to end a six-year losing streak against Les Bleus when they go head-to-head at Croke Park on Saturday and victory would spark widespread belief that the 'golden generation' could capture their first title since 1985.
A typically leftfield team selection by France coach Marc Lievremont has improved their hopes of generating some crucial early momentum and expectations have risen accordingly. But Kidney, overseeing his first Six Nations campaign, strikes a more cautious note against Ireland's championship nemesis.
"You have to look forward to taking on France like all these big nations. You just want to challenge yourself against the best," he said. "On whether it's the ideal time to play France, I don't think there is ever an ideal time to play them. They are strong the whole way through.
"They have stated their ambition of coming to Dublin and scoring tries and that's about as much as I need to know. We can either be fearful or look forward to it. I believe in the latter because you have to look forward to playing them.
"I believe the more often you play these sides then the better it allows you to become because you learn so much about yourself."
If the fortunes of the nations' representatives in the Heineken Cup are anything to go by, France arrive in Dublin as deserving underdogs. Munster and Leinster won their pools while only Toulouse are still flying the flag for the Top 14, having finished as one of the two best runners-up.
Kidney salutes the success of Ireland's provinces in Europe and implores the same players to reproduce those heroics when they pull on their green jerseys. "I would not read too much into the way the French teams have performed in the Heineken Cup," he said.
"They have a big number of players to draw on while we have a smaller pool, but we have been fronting up exceptionally well in the Heineken Cup. Now we are asking the same pool of players to do it on a national front. And I can't speak highly enough about how they have gone about their job."
Ireland endured a heart-rending debut at Croke Park two years ago when they allowed Vincent Clerc to score a match-winning try on the stroke of full-time. France went on to edge Ireland for the Six Nations title on points difference - their total of plus four was enough to seal it - and skipper Brian O'Driscoll hopes the lessons of that day have been learnt.
"We've done so much talking over the last fortnight. Now's it time to get onto the pitch and do what comes naturally," he said. "It's a great place to be, playing at home in Croke Park in front of 80,000 people. You have to seize these moments and to take them with both hands. It's where you want to be as a professional rugby player.
"There is an element of using defeat in Croke Park as a learning curve. There's the realisation that, if you find yourself in a similar situation, you can change the fortune a little."
In a timley boost, fullback Rob Kearney has been passed fit to face France having shaken off concerns over an ankle injury.