France target double over Ireland
August 19, 2011
Alexis Palisson is one of only two players to retain their place in France's starting XV © Getty Images
Ireland meet France for the second time in a week at Lansdowne Road on Saturday with the hosts under pressure to return to winning ways ahead of next month's Rugby World Cup.
France prevailed 19-12 in Bordeaux last weekend to heap pressure on the Irish who also lost to Scotland in their opening World Cup warm-up clash. Ireland coach Declan Kidney was frustrated by his side's display, despite an impressive second half comeback, criticising their inability to retain possession.
A victory for an Ireland XV over Connacht in midweek will have raised spirits a little but Kidney will be expecting more from his side this weekend with talismanic skipper Brian O'Driscoll and forwards Paul O'Connell and James Heaslip making a timely return to the front line.
In contrast, France produced an eye-catching first-half performance last weekend only to falter after the break. The re-run in Dublin is France's last opportunity to find their rhythm ahead of their World Cup opener against Japan on September 10. But coach Marc Lievremont, as is often his way, is also anxious to give all of his squad the chance to break into the final 30-man squad in what could be seen as a gamble.
Ireland - Player to Watch: O'Driscoll returns to the Ireland midfield following a shoulder and neck injury and Irish supporters will be looking to the Leinster man to ignite the backline that struggled in his absence in France.
Ireland - Team News: O'Driscoll's comeback at outside centre sees Keith Earls move to the left wing with Luke Fitzgerald dropping to the bench. Rob Kearney is ruled out with a groin strain and replaced by Felix Jones at fullback. Fly-half Jonathan Sexton and scrum-half Tomas O'Leary have been recalled while O'Connell and Heaslip start after coming off the bench last weekend. Shane Jennings is a late replacement for David Wallace at openside flanker.
France - Player to Watch: Aurelien Rougerie makes his long-awaited return from injury opposite O'Driscoll at outside centre in a tantalising match-up. The Clermont Auvergne centre will hope to crash over the gain-line for France and secure a place in Les Blues starting line-up for the World Cup
France - Team News: Lievremont has made 13 changes with wing Alexis Palisson and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski the only players to retain their place in the starting XV. Rougerie partners Fabrice Estebanez in midfield while Cedric Heyman starts at fullback and Maxime Medard takes the other wing berth. Raphaël Lakafia has been ruled out of the match with a hamstring injury.
Key Battle: France's Morgan Parra and Ireland's Tomas O'Leary will be charged with dictating the tempo for each side from scrum-half. Parra will be looking to respond to Dimitri Yachvili's strong display against Ireland last week while O'Leary strikes up his partnership with Sexton once again.
Trivia: O'Driscoll has scored eight tries in 12 matches against France, a sequence that started with a hat-trick on his debut in March 2000.
Stats: France have an impressive head-to-head record in Ireland with - 20 wins to Ireland's 19. Ten of those victories have come in the previous 13 encounters between the sides in the Republic.
"Winning is important but isn't the be all and end all. It's also about getting game time and getting up to speed."
"It's a warm-up game. We need to play these guys. We're on course for the World Cup and it was out of the question to make 15 players sweat blood and tears and not make the others play. From the moment we chose to play two warm-up games, and I don't regret that choice, everybody had to play."
Prediction: Ireland to gain revenge for their defeat seven days ago with a narrow victory in thanks largely to the endeavour of Heaslip and company up front.
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