Love may be in the air, but there will be no time for pleasantries once today’s RBS 6 Nations showdown between Ireland and France gets underway. Can Ireland knock the defending champions off their perch, or will les Bleus spoil the Aviva Stadium’s Championship debut?
2011 RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Sunday, February 13
IRELAND (4th) v FRANCE (2nd), Aviva Stadium, 3pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC Two)
Team News: The Ireland team to play France in the first RBS 6 Nations Championship game at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday has been named.
Head coach Declan Kidney has made one change to the team that started against Italy last Saturday, with the fit-again Jamie Heaslip returning at number 8.
Sean O’Brien moves to blindside flanker and Denis Leamy is named among the replacements in place of Shane Jennings. David Wallace, who touched down against France last year, completes the starting back row.
Commenting on the selection, Kidney said: “I wasn’t satisfied with the way we played (in Italy). I think we can play a lot better but I believe the players that played, played in a way that they deserve another go.
“As a team and as units we have made one change. Jamie is obviously a good player. He brings his own skill set to it.
“That will give us a little bit of variation in that line of our team, but other than that, sometimes you need to back them and that is what I am doing.
“Denis (Leamy) is unlucky to lose out. He had a very good day for us the last day. There would be a number of different factors in that selection and one small one, not the overriding one, would be the fact that Sean has played at six with Jamie at eight before.”
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll is within touching distance of yet another career milestone – the Championship try-scoring record that has stood since 1933. O’Driscoll is one try short of equalling Ian Smith’s record.
Meanwhile, France head coach Marc Lievremont has selected his team for the much-anticipated encounter with Ireland.
Maxime Mermoz, who won his eighth cap in France’s 34-21 win over Scotland last weekend, has been sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Mermoz’s place at inside centre has been taken by the versatile Damien Traille who switches from the full-back position to form a sturdy midfield combination with Aurelien Rougerie.
The one and only change in personnel from the Scotland match sees Clement Poitrenaud return at full-back for les Bleus.
Of the team that beat Ireland 33-10 in Paris twelve months ago, only Poitrenaud and half-backs Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra remain in the backs.
Marc Lievremont fields the same front row of Thomas Domingo, William Servat and Nicolas Mas, while lock Lionel Nallet, team captain Thierry Dusautoir and number 8 Imanol Harinordoquy are also survivors from the sides’ 2010 meeting.
Yannick Jauzion, who started that game at centre alongside Mathieu Bastareaud, has been added to the French replacements bench along with prop Sylvain Marconnet.
Lievremont said: “We go with stability. I think Damien is better physically and mentally than he was in November. I liked his performance at the back. He can play in many positions.”
IRELAND: Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster); Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Keith Earls (Thomond/Munster); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster), Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht), Tom Court (Malone/Ulster), Leo Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster), Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster).
FRANCE: Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse); Yoann Huget (Bayonne), Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), Damien Traille (Biarritz Olympique), Maxime Medard (Toulouse); Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Morgan Parra (Clermont Auvergne); Thomas Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), William Servat (Toulouse), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Julien Pierre (Clermont Auvergne), Lionel Nallet (Racing Metro 92), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse) (capt), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz Olympique).
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado (Perpignan), Sylvain Marconnet (Biarritz Olympique), Jerome Thion (Biarritz Olympique), Sebastien Chabal (Racing Metro 92), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz Olympique), Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse).
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), David Changleng (Scotland)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland to win: 8/5; Draw: 20/1; France to win: 4/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland) – “I love playing on these days. I’ve been lucky enough to play in a few of them and they get better with each year.
“The harder the games are, the more fulfilling the victories are. I’m looking forward to it. It’s felt like quite a long week this week, albeit it’s just a day later than our usual Saturday kick-off.
“Things have gone well. In training we’ve tried to put right the errors we made last weekend against Italy.
“We’ve been doing our homework and everyone is looking forward to being back at the Aviva Stadium with a big crowd ready to cheer us on.
“We respect the way France played against Scotland, but at the same time they leaked a few tries and that showed there’s an element of vulnerability there.
“We must try to exploit that and make sure we don’t do what we did last week, instead being clinical when the opportunities arise.
“France’s strength in depth is huge and when they leave someone of Yannick’s experience on the bench it shows the calibre of player they’ve got.
“I’ve played against (Aurelien) Rougerie a number of times and he’s an extremely dangerous ball carrier and a ferocious tackler.
“He’s got a wealth of experience himself. It will be a big challenge and he’s definitely up there with the best players in the world.”
Clement Poitrenaud (France) – “People should not count on me to run every ball that comes to me. I have developed other facets to returning the ball other than running with it, which was perhaps my one quality when I began rugby. If I need to use my kicking game, I will use it.
“The Irish know us, as they play against us regularly in the Heineken Cup. They know very well that we are above all fond of running the ball out of defence and they will be on their guard.
“It is imperative that we don’t focus just on running it and to realise that we will have to kick the ball as well.
“I don’t think we’ve paid too much attention to that match (Ireland’s win over Italy). They really didn’t play at their usual level, and they were missing several key players.
“We cannot fall into the trap of thinking that they are weaker, out of form or disorganised because we will face another Irish side on Sunday.
“We should pay more attention to their performances back in November, notably against the All Blacks where even if they did lose, they put in a good performance.”
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