Date: 13th February 2011
Kick-off: 15:00 (GMT)
Venue: Aviva Stadium
After last week’s dour performance in Rome, one could be forgiven for expecting Declan Kidney to make a raft of changes to this week’s starting XV. Alas, this is not the case. Only one change to last week’s team as Jamie Heaslip returns from injury and replaces Denis Leamy who drops to the bench. Players such as Gordon D’arcy and Tomas O’Leary will have a point to prove after last week’s poor performance. This is going to be a huge test for Ireland and they will have to play a near-perfect game to stay with the French for 80 minutes.
France oozed class last weekend in Paris against a very decent Scottish side. Although at times their defence was caught napping, they looked like they could score at will. British and Irish Lion Euan Murray had a nightmare trying to cope with their powerful front row. Man of the match last week, Maxime Médard, moves to the wing in a back line reshuffle that sees Clement Poitrenaud replacing the injured Maxime Mermoz at fullback, with Damien Traille moving to inside-centre. French coach Marc Lièvremont has used 85 players during his tenure but seems to have settled on his squad stating “Finally in the end, I chose stability”
What to expect:
Ireland will struggle against this French pack, of that, there is no doubt. They will be praying the penalty count will be more balanced than it was last week in Rome where they were crucified conceding 13 penalties to Italy’s 5. This game certainly has the potential to be a high-scoring: the French have conceded 11 tries in their last 2 outings, and if they give Brian O’Driscoll and co the same space they gave the Scots last week, they could be in for a turbulent time. On the other hand the Irish pack will have to be playing at peak performance to keep parity with the French in the scrum. Ireland cannot allow France to settle into the free-flowing game that they displayed for long periods in their opening fixture.
All eyes on:
Jamie Heaslip, who returns from the bruised ankle he suffered against Clermont in the Heineken Cup in December. What a game to ‘ease himself’ back into! Heaslip’s return will lift confidence in this Irish team, he was the stand-out player in the Autumn internationals and with his contract negotiations with Leinster all put to bed he will be able to focus completely on the job at hand.
French back row Imanol Harinordoquy stormed through for a wonderful try last weekend setup by his out half Trinh-Duc. His workrate against Scotland was phenomenal, both in the loose and disrupting the Scottish line out. Last season he was the only player from the Northern hemisphere to make the shortlist for World player of the year.
Head to head – The battle of the front-rows:
The French trio of Nicolas Mas, William Servat and Thomas Domingo really made short work of the Scottish front row last Saturday. They are on the top of their game at the moment and will be very tough to contain. The Irish front row are relatively inexperienced with Healy and Ross having only 18 senior caps between them. Irish hooker Rory Best is set to have a difficult day throwing as the French have very strong lineout options and will be attempting to disrupt the Irish lineout every throw.
Last year’s result: France won convincingly 33-10 in Paris and went on to win the Grand Slam.
Weather: Cool, chance of drizzle, fresh westerly wind.
France have won eight of the last nine meetings between the sides. Ireland have not played to the potential they showed in 2009, and for this reason, I believe France will edge it on Sunday by 4 or 5 points.