Ireland out to make it second time lucky
February 29, 2012
Ireland will hope for a warmer reception in Paris on Sunday © PA Photos
Ireland travel to Paris on Sunday for a second crack at France, who emerged from the big freeze a little rusty despite another Six Nations win in Scotland last weekend.
Philippe Saint-Andre has two victories - over the tournament's weaker sides - to his name as coach, but the former Sale and Toulon boss will demand greater cohesion and defensive bite from his charges against the Irish.
The visitors wiped the floor with Italy last weekend after the Azzurri turned in a callow second-half display. Their minds will be on taking a rare win from the Stade de France - with added motivation coming in the form of the original fixture's postponement.
Neither team particularly wanted to play on this weekend, but those are the breaks. Any lack of focus or effort could be terminal - Ireland have building blocks to cement, while France will desire another step on the road to a possible Grand Slam decider against Wales in Cardiff.
France - Player to Watch: Aurelien Rougerie has been overshadowed by his centre partner - Wesley Fofana - in recent weeks but his one-on-one match up with Keith Earls could be a big one. The Munster man is in big shoes, Brian O'Driscoll's, and his defence has been questionable in the past when asked to deal with a quick, powerful opponent.
France - Team News: The home side have made two changes, with one enforced by injury. Maxime Medard sits out, meaning that his Toulouse team-mate, Clement Poitrenaud, starts at fullback. In the pack, Julien Bonnaire returns at openside, shifting Imanol Harinordoquy to No.8 and Louis Picamoles to the bench.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Scotland found out the hard way that you must hold your own in the scrum against this - or any other - French side. Mike Ross - Ireland's tight-head and resident scrum geek - needs to have a big game at the set-piece.
Ireland - Team News: Same again for the visitors, with Declan Kidney resisting the urge to bow to public pressure in the case of Conor Murray. The Munster youngster starts at scrum-half alongside Jonny Sexton, with Eoin Reddan again riding the pine.
Key Battle: Bonnaire's elevation to the starting side may have something to do with Ireland's fearsome lineout, and also perhaps some questions over the hosts' proficiency. Ireland will want parity at the scrum and an advantage at the lineout before getting to work in a breakdown battle missing a specialist openside on both teams. Keep an eye on Paul O'Connell's work.
Trivia: Ireland's last win in Paris - or Brian O'Driscoll and the hat-trick - came in 2000. The only survivor this weekend is Ronan O'Gara, who sits on the Irish bench after starting the 27-25 victory 12 years ago.
Stats: Should O'Gara make it on this weekend he will overtake Willie John McBride as Ireland's most-capped player against France, with 16 appearances.
"I hope people haven't thrown their tickets away. I hope the fans will be right behind us in a packed stadium.'' - France boss Philippe Saint-Andre hopes for a big turnout after a bigger disappointment.
"I don't think we need to do something special. That's where we fall down sometimes when we play in France. We look at our record and it doesn't fill us with confidence, so maybe we feel as though we have to try something different there." - Ireland fullback Rob Kearney's measured view of the task at hand.
Prediction: Ireland showed renewed vigour against Italy but still didn't set the world alight. France, for all their huffing and puffing in Scotland, should take this one on home soil, but only just.
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