Sat, Feb 07, 2009 - Page 18 News List

RBS NATIONS: Irish look to give French torrid time

AFP , DUBLIN

Ireland and France clash in the Six Nations today desperate to see their talented backs unleash a Croke Park try barrage.

Both sides mustered just a try apiece in each of their last two Test matches in November — the Irish through Tommy Bowe against Argentina and the French, a penalty try against Australia.

However, Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll believes Ireland could give France a torrid time today, especially with unpredictable Clement Poitrenaud restored at full-back by France coach Marc Lievremont.

Irish optimism has also been fueled by the visitors’ decision to field the untried half-back partnership of Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Lionel Beauxis, who team up for the first time since they won the 2006 under-21 world crown.

Ireland, by contrast, will have the vastly experienced Ronan O’Gara at fly-half alongside Munster teammate Tomas O’Leary.

“I believe we have great potential and if we click, then it really could be something,” said 30-year-old O’Driscoll, scorer of 32 tries in his 88 Tests. “That is the big question, though, is whether we click.”

Ireland will be looking to their younger backs, such as Luke Fitzgerald and Leinster teammate Robert Kearney, to break the lines more often than their captain, who admits that his days of breaking through at speed are a thing of the past.

France will rely largely on Toulouse, who provide four of the five outside of the halfbacks, with Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz playing at center, reflecting the fact that Toulouse are the only French side to have made the last eight of the European Cup.

However, Ireland coach Declan Kidney believes France’s poor European form at club level could inspire his opponents.

“I think what happened in the European Cup will only serve to solidify them and they will be out to prove a point,” said Kidney, who succeeded Eddie O’Sullivan last year after guiding Munster to two European Cup titles.

“If you look at our record against them in the professional era we have only beaten them three times [2000, 2001 and 2003], twice by a point and once by two points,” Kidney said. “Like a lot of sides in rugby, once they start getting a bit of criticism it tends to gel you together. I think we could be seeing that from the start.”

Lievremont believes he has at last got the starting 15 he has wanted since taking over from Bernard Laporte after the 2007 World Cup.

“This is my ideal 15 and the right team to take on a passionate Irish side in front of their equally passionate supporters,” the 40-year-old former France flanker said. “We expect a tough clash with not a lot between the two sides, as was the case two years ago [France grabbed victory in the final 90 seconds,] but while I want us to play with more style, I also really want us to get off to a winning start.”

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