Ireland tasked with shackling France
February 10, 2011
France's Imanol Harinordoquy forces an opening in the Scotland defence during last Saturday's clash in Paris © Getty Images
Ireland are faced with the unenviable task of tackling an in-form France when the two sides go head-to-head in the Six Nations at Lansdowne Road on Sunday.
France set the standard on the opening weekend of the Championship with a dazzling 34-21 victory over Scotland that showcased their breathtaking ability in broken play. However, Marc Lievremont's side were equally impressive up front with a rock solid scrum laying the foundation for their dominant display, although question marks remain about their defence.
In contrast, Ireland laboured their way to a 13-11 success against Italy in Rome, where they only just avoided a shock defeat thanks to a late drop goal. Multiple errors and a general lethargy will have given Ireland boss Declan Kidney plenty of food for thought in the days since as he pondered his side's first Championship appearance at their re-vamped home.
France's headline-grabbing victory over the Scots was far from perfect and while Ireland may see that as a chink in their rivals' armour others will be wary of room for improvement.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Tight-head Mike Ross will have seen the scrummaging lesson France loose-head Thomas Domingo handed down to Scotland's Euan Murray last time out and all eyes will be on the scrum to see if he can claim another scalp.
Ireland - Team News: Leinster No.8 Jamie Heaslip returns to bolster Ireland's back-row having missed the opener with an ankle injury. As a result Sean O'Brien shifts to the blindside flank with Munster's Denis Leamy dropping to the replacements' bench in place of Shane Jennings.
France - Player to Watch: No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy produced an eye-catching display against the Scots and will relish the chance to take on a much-vaunted Irish back-row.
France - Team News: A season-ending injury suffered by Maxime Mermoz triggers a reshuffle with Damien Traille returning to the No.12 shirt and Clement Poitrenaud promoted from the bench to fullback. Yannick Jauzion earns a spot among the replacements alongside prop Sylvain Marconnet, who has been given the nod ahead of Castres' Luc Ducalcon.
Key Battle: The French pack made mincemeat of their Scottish rivals in Paris and will be salivating at the prospect of taking on an Irish front-row trio short on experience. Another one-sided contest could put paid to the home side's hopes.
Trivia: France coach Marc Lievremont became only the fifth man to taste Grand Slam success as both a player (1998) and a coach (2009) when his side swept their challengers last year. In doing so he joined Wales' John Dawes ('71/'76 '78), France's Jacques Fouroux ('77/'81) and Jean-Claude Skrela ('77/'97) and England's Clive Woodward ('80/'03)
Stats: Ireland's Ronan O'Gara has 53 Championship appearances to his name - four short of the record held by countryman Mike Gibson.
"We have chosen two athletic centres and a back three [wings Maxime Medard and Yoann Huget and fullback Clement Poitrenaud] who are more dynamic players."
"Sometimes you need to back your players and after the way they went about their business, that's what I'm doing."
The Odds: If you think France will put Ireland to the sword then you may be tempted by the fact that Bet365 are currently offering 13/2 for Les Bleus to beat the hosts by 11-15 points.
Fantasy: Ireland's Sean O'Brien collected the Man of the Match honour in Rome last weekend to boost his ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game tally but will he have a similar impact at blindside? Maybe time to change your line-up?
Prediction: Expect Ireland to improve on the error-strewn display they produced against Italy but that will not be enough to shackle a France side ready to dominate with a devastating mix of power and pace.
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