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Le Crunch At Lunch

Le Crunch At Lunch

The last three times Ireland have won the Triple Crown – including 2004 – France have handed them their only defeat. 1.30pm at Lansdowne Road – it’s payback time!

The last three times Ireland have won the Triple Crown – including 2004 – France have handed them their only defeat. 1.30pm at Lansdowne Road – it’s payback time!

Saint Patrick may have banished the snakes from the Emerald Isle, but the ‘bereted’ Bleus have well and truly landed with an estimated 9,000 supporters arriving in Dublin on 37-plus charter flights over the past 24 hours.

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‘Le Grand Chelem’ may be gone for Bernard Laporte’s side but their pride alone will see them gun for their third Six Nations win of the season this afternoon – knowing full well that four victories may well see them claim back-to-back Championships.

Especially with Grand Slam hopefuls Ireland and Wales clashing next Saturday at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Laporte has been forced to make two changes from the side which lost 24-18 to the Welsh two weeks ago – uncapped Toulouse prodigy Benoit Baby takes the place of Damien Traille (ankle) – and his original replacement Ludovic Valbon (thorn thigh muscle), who cried off during the week.

France’s attack will also be minus the barnstorming runs of Aurelien Rougerie (sternum) – whose place on the left wing is taken by the experienced Cedric Heymans.

Captain and veteran lock Fabien Pelous makes his 100th appearance – and his 32nd as skipper – joining a select band of the game’s centurions.

Ireland – who are also duelling with the French for fourth place in the IRB World Rankings come Monday – welcome Ulster midfielder Kevin Maggs back into their side, following the injuries sustained by both Shane Horgan (thumb) and Gordon D’Arcy (hamstring).

Eddie O’Sullivan’s men are on a seven-game winning streak in the Six Nations – with last year’s 35-17 loss in Paris their last defeat.

Today’s visitors have admittedly had a stranglehold on Lansdowne Road in the last 15 years – chalking up a famous seven straight wins at the old stadium between 1987 and 1999.

However, wins for the Irish in 2001 (22-15) and 2003 (15-12) have brought about a turnaround in fortunes.

Very rarely is there more than a single try between these sides – if the stakes are high. With memories of that harrowing 2003 World Cup quarter-final defeat in their minds, O’Sullivan’s men should have enough firepower to keep their juggernaut rolling amid the March madness sure to enfold.

Verdict: Ireland to win by four points – with fly-half Ronan O’Gara – currently on 505 points – to assume the mantle of record points scorer, ahead of his Ulster rival David Humphreys (513).

Watch out too for captain Brian O’Driscoll – who has scored six tries in five outings against the French, and missed last year’s meeting. However, the smart money should go on Leinster speedster Denis Hickie – who missed the last two clashes with France, and earns his 50th cap. The 29-year-old already has two tries to his name in 2005.

That winning feeling is Ireland’s to keep.

SIX NATIONS: Saturday, March 12
Ireland v France, Lansdowne Road, 1.30pm


(15) Geordan Murphy
(14) Girvan Dempsey
(13) Brian O’Driscoll (Capt)
(12) Kevin Maggs
(11) Denis Hickie
(10) Ronan O’Gara
(9) Peter Stringer
(1) Reggie Corrigan
(2) Shane Byrne
(3) John Hayes
(4) Malcolm O’Kelly
(5) Paul O’Connell
(6) Simon Easterby
(7) Johnny O’Connor
(8) Anthony Foley


(16) Frankie Sheahan
(17) Marcus Horan
(18) Donncha O’Callaghan
(19) Eric Miller
(20) Guy Easterby
(21) David Humphreys
(22) Gavin Duffy


(15) Julien Laharrague
(14) Cedric Heymans
(13) Yannick Jauzion
(12) Benoit Baby
(11) Christophe Dominici
(10) Yann Delaigue
(9) Dimitri Yachvili
(1) Sylvain Marconnet
(2) Sebastien Bruno
(3) Nicolas Mas
(4) Fabien Pelous (Capt)
(5) Jerome Thion
(6) Serge Betsen
(7) Yannick Nyanga
(8) Julien Bonnaire


(16) William Servat
(17) Pieter De Villiers
(18) Pascal Pape
(19) Gregory Lamboley
(20) Pierre Mignoni
(21) Fridiric Michalak
(22) David Marty

Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Touch judges: Paul Honiss (New Zealand), Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)