Date: 13th August 2011
Time: 19:45 IST
Venue: Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Ireland face France in the first of their two leg World Cup warm-up games. (Return leg in Dublin next Saturday) Ireland line up with what is a vastly more experienced side than the team that faced Scotland last weekend. The French have named an almost full strength team with only one new cap, Biarritz back-row Raphael Lakafia.
Lakafia will be joined in a very strong back row by French captain Thierry Dusautoir and fellow Biarritz player Imanol Harinordoquy. Vincent Clerc starts on the wing and he will be hoping to maintain his quite amazing try-scoring record against Ireland. Saturday also sees a return for French centre Maxime Mermoz who makes his first appearance since suffering a serious shoulder injury during their Six Nations game against Scotland in February, Mermoz is one player to keep an eye on at the World Cup, he was very impressive early in the Six Nations.
Two new partnerships to be tested for Ireland, Paddy Wallace and Keith Earls play alongside each other for the first time in the centres, as do Leo Cullen and Donnacha O’Callaghan in the second row. Wallace will be expected to deliver a stronger performance than last weekend’s, although I suspect France will have reviewed that game and seen how how Scotland targeted him in particular, expect more of the same. Ronan O’Gara starts this week alongside Eoin Reddan, while most fans are eager to see Munster scrum half Conor Murray come off the bench and show what he can do at this level, this is a huge game for him to stake a claim for a World Cup place.
What to expect
This could be a very fast open game with conditions that will suit spreading the ball wide. Earls at centre should be able to provide some much needed creativity that was lacking last weekend against Scotland. France have not named a full strength starting front row, allowing William Servat and Fabien Barcella (travelling as 23rd man) much needed recovery time from their respective injuries. This may allow the Irish pack some chance of parity in the scrum, giving them a platform to build from.
All eyes on
Much focus from an Irish perspective will be on Keith Earls at centre, is he the player who can replace Brian O’Driscoll in the long-term? Jerry Flannery came through his 20 minute appearance last weekend and will be keen to get much needed game time under his belt. Leo Cullen did a fantastic job last weekend in rallying the pack when under considerable pressure from the Scots throughout the game, and I feel the team will rely on his leadership again to get through this much sterner test. For the French, much focus on how the new cap Lakafia embeds into the vastly experienced back row.
Last fixture: 13th Feb: 6 Nations, Ireland 22-25 France, Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Weather: Sunny, warm, temps in the low 20’s
A high scoring game could be on the cards, I’m going to go with a home win, France by 8.