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6N Preview: France v Ireland

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 00:00
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France and Ireland are set for a fierce encounter in their Six Nations match at the Stade de France on Saturday after both coaches demanded their players go for the jugular.

French coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who started his tenure with a 30-12 win over Italy last Saturday, wants his side to show a mean streak from the start and deny the Irish any opportunity to settle at a stadium where they have not won since 2000.

His Irish counterpart Declan Kidney, meanwhile, wants his players to show a more clinical side and kill off their opponents when they have the upper hand unlike in their 23-21 opening loss to Wales last Sunday.

The French will start the match, which is likely to be played on a hard surface after below-freezing temperatures throughout the week, as warm favourites having won 11 of their last 12 encounters with the Irish.

However, Saint-Andre says he saw enough from the game against the Italians to warrant significant improvements if they are to beat an Irish side that is a step up from last weekend's resilient but limited opposition.

"We have to get the Irish by the throat from the kick-off," said the 44-year-old former France wing and captain.

"We have to improve on our winning of the ball and line-outs, especially which were weak against the Italians and we need to be more spontaneous in our thinking on the pitch.

"However if we add those ingredients to the hunger, discipline and realism shown in the first match then we will be making progress," he said.

Both coaches refrained from making sweeping changes, something Saint-Andre's predecessor Marc Lievremont was never afraid of doing.

The French initially made four changes to the pack but on Thursday the coach had to bring in Morgan Parra at scrumhalf to replace the injured Dimitri Yachvili.

Kidney brought in Keith Earls at centre where he was meant to start last Sunday but had to be replaced by Fergus McFadden after Earls' new-born baby girl was hospitalised.

Regardless of the Irish losing to Wales, and their dreadful record against the hosts, France wing Vincent Clerc is not underestimating his team's opponents.

"They played really well against the Welsh and they did not deserve to lose at the end," said the 30-year-old, who five years ago broke Irish hearts with a last-minute try in Dublin that snatched victory.

"It is going to be a complicated tussle. They haven't beaten us for a while but I think they are really in form at the moment. The 'fighting spirit' is one of their qualities but they have lots of others qualities, notably the line-out and keeping the ball," he said.

Kidney, who coached the Irish to the 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam, said that he wanted a significant improvement on the performance against the Welsh.

"We have to go for the jugular when we have the other team on the back foot," said the 52-year-old, who despite his Grand Slam exploit may come under pressure should they lose badly.

"We also have to defend better than we did against the Welsh, choose our options better."

Irish captain Paul O'Connell, who has replaced the injured Brian O'Driscoll for the whole tournament, also called on his teammates to defend better especially on the blindside where they have twice been punished by the Welsh in their last two games.

"There's a lot we have to improve on. Some of the silly errors we made against Wales we must cut out," said the 32-year-old lock.

"Against France away from home you need to start well. It's frustrating that I haven't beaten France in Paris, but we have a team that can do it."

Players to watch:

For France: Scrumhalf Morgan Parra will be determined to take the opportunity presented by Dimitri Yachvili's injury while outside him flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc will want to improve on his lacklustre showing against Italy. The Clermont centre duo of Wesley Fofana and Aurelien Rougerie will be keen to build on last week's display and create some space for the dangerous outside backs. In the pack debutant lock Yoann Maestri will want to start with a bang against the respected second row pair of Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan, while it will also be interesting to see how Imanol Harinordoquy goes on the side of the scrum.

For Ireland: Right wing Tommy Bowe is on good form and he will look to link up with speedy centre Keith Earls and fullback Rob Kearney to hurt France out wide. The highly rated Irish props Mike Ross and Cian Healy will be intent on dominating up front while in the back row the destructive pair of Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien will want to continue on their recent rampaging form.

Head to head: There are a number of mouth-watering match-ups in this clash with both sides boasting impressive forward packs. Up front the battle between Irish loosehead Healy and French tighthead Nicolas Mas should be one to relish while in the back row watching Harinordoquy and O'Brien smash into one another is sure to be a highlight. The game may well be won in the midfield where the experienced Gordon D'Arcy and converted wing Earls will have their work cut out dealing with the explosive Fofana and wily Rougerie.

Recent results:
2011: France won 26-22 in Dublin
2011: France won 19-12 in Bordeaux
2011: France won 25-22 in Dublin
2010: France won 33-10 in Paris
2009: Ireland won 30-21 in Dublin
2008: France won 26-21 in Paris
2007: France won 25-3 in Paris
2007: France won 20-17 in Dublin
2006: France won 43-31 in Paris
2005: France won 26-19 in Dublin

Prediction: The Irish boast a physical pack and some electric talent in the backline, so they will strike some big blows, but they may battle to win the battle for the ball on the ground up against French skipper Thierry Dusatoir and will find themselves fighting an uphill battle away from home. The French have too much class all over the park and their record against Ireland at home speaks for itself. We are backing France to take this one by about eight points.

Teams:

France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitry Szarzewski, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 William Servat, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Lionel Nallet, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Julien Dupuy, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Maxime Mermoz.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Peter O'Mahony, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Fergus McFadden.

Date: Saturday, February 11
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Clear but cold with a slight breeze and a high of -2°C and a low of -9°C
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Andrew Small (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)

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