Desperate times in Dublin
March 8, 2013
Ireland's Cian Healy returns from suspension needing to re-build his battered reputation © PA Photos
Ireland will be hoping to heap woe on win-less France when the two sides go head-to-head in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Head to Head
France are reeling from three straight championship defeats with Italy, Wales and England all having got the better of them in recent weeks. As a result they are on course for their first wooden spoon since 1999, first win-less campaign since 1969 and first whitewash since 1957.
Ireland began the championship in sparkling form with a victory over Wales in their opener but they have failed to hit those heights since with both England and more recently Scotland getting the better of them.
Both sides have shown only glimpses of their best form and their lack of consistency leaves them amongst the also-rans in this year's Six Nations. The respective coaches - Ireland's Declan Kidney and France's Philippe Saint-Andre - are feeling the heat and their long-term futures and the players' desire to right some wrongs ensure there is still plenty to play for.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Cian Healy returns from suspension needing a big performance to rescue his reputation and keep his British & Irish Lions hopes alive.
Ireland - Team News: Ireland make three changes to the side that fell to Scotland last month with Healy returning at the expense of Tom Court, winger Fergus McFadden stepping in for the injured Craig Gilroy and lock Mike McCarthy getting the nod over Donncha O'Callaghan. Paddy Jackson has shaken off a minor hamstring injury to retain the No.10 shirt with Ian Madigan set to provide cover on the bench with veteran Rona O'Gara omitted from the squad. Munster prop Stephen Archer and Leinster lock Devin Toner are also drafted onto the bench.
France - Player to Watch: Wesley Fofana claimed a superb score against England last month with his pace and dazzling feet too much for the England defence - will he be able to slice his way through the Ireland defence in similar fashion?
France - Team News: France have made three changes to their starting line-up including a surprise recall for fly-half Frederic Michalak. The Toulon scrum-half is handed the No.10 jersey ahead of Francois Trinh-Duc despite failing to impress off the bench during his side's 23-13 defeat to England last time out. Winger Maxime Medard is also set to make his first Test appearance for over a year having battled back from a knee injury with Benjamin Fall missing out altogether. Elsewhere, Florian Fritz is preferred at outside centre with Mathieu Bastareaud dropping to the bench.
Key Battle: Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip has been the subject of widespread criticism of late and will be keen to silence his doubters - but in French counterpart Louis Picamoles he faces once of the giants of European rugby. Which player will dominate the game and the headlines?
Trivia: Steve Walsh will be taking charge of a Six Nations match for the 10th time and these two sides for the second time. The previous meeting handled by Walsh was back in 2007 when a last-gasp try from Vincent Clerc propelled France to a 20-17 victory at Croke Park.
Stats: Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross will combine in the front row for the 20th time on Saturday, equalling Shane Byrne, John Hayes and Reggie Corrigan's record for Ireland. Ewen McKenzie, Phil Kearns and Tony Daly hold the record for a front row, combining a total of 36 times for Australia
Betting: Wesley Fofana lit up Twickenham last time out and the French winger is an attractive 11/1 with Bet365 to open the scoring once again. Or maybe you fancy Ireland centre Luke Marshall to build on the promise he showed last time out with the winning try? The 22-year-old is 14/1 to score the last try of the game.
"These calls have to be made. That's the role of the coach. It was a very tight call, but when you have to do your job, you have to do your job"
"We believe in the team. It's in a difficult moment and we're going to see the true face of this team. It's up to us to raise our heads."
Prediction: With both sides desperate to stop the rot, this game may not be pretty with home advantage set to give Ireland a priceless edge and a valuable victory.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton