Cronin: We can steal it in Paris
HOOKER Seán Cronin is "under no illusion about how tough a place" Paris has become for Ireland over the last 40 years.
"It is test match rugby. France are an excellent side. We know if we get our stuff right, we can compete with anybody. If we can get it right we will put up a serious challenge to the French," he said.
It took Brian O'Driscoll's magical hat-trick of tries in 2000 to break the French hoodoo that stretched all the way back to 1972 when we last won there in the Five Nations.
Since 2000, the trend has been re-established. England and Wales have won there. Ireland have not. It is a mystery that will take solving on Saturday night.
France coach Philippe Saint-André has given every indication, through his selection, that he will go after the Ireland lineout in Paris on Saturday night.
Saint-André has replaced half of his forward pack with lineout throwing being, perhaps, Dimitri Szarzewski's only possible area of superiority over the remarkable William Servat, many critics' idea of the best hooker in the world.
Is Szarzewski a better lineout thrower? "Ah, probably," issued Cronin. "There's not much between them.
"They are both quality players. Szarzewski is a bit more mobile around the pitch, but Servat is extremely dynamic as well. They're not losing much by rotating those two."
There will also be the intimidating sight of Imanol Harinordoquy, a supreme athlete, roaming up and down the lineout in place of Julien Bonnaire to put pressure on the Irish thrower, Rory Best.
How does Harinordoquy compare with Bonnaire, a defensive lineout master: "I think he's just as strong, if not stronger. We know down through the years he is extremely capable in the lineout.
Paulie (O'Connell) always talks about him and the danger and the threat that he poses."
In addition, Toulouse's 23-year-old 6'7" second row Yoann Maestri has been brought in for Lionel Nallet as another superb lineout operator adept at squeezing jumpers for space. They will definitely target the Irish in the air.
Assistant coach Mark Tainton knows the France that Ireland will face could be transformed from the side that took care of Italy without ever moving into top gear.
"You can read what you want into last weekend with the French. They weren't at the top of their game. The coach has said they can perform a lot better," said Tainton.
"I am sure when we go over on Saturday night we will be playing against a more fluent French team after another week's training."
Meanwhile, the IRFU have confirmed that Keith Earls, available for Ireland on Saturday, and Denis Leamy, currently injured, have extended their Munster contracts to the end of the season 2013-2014.
Earls said: "I'm excited about getting back in with the Ireland squad and hopefully getting the chance to play against France this weekend.
"I'm really happy to get my contract completed as well. Munster has been my only home as a player and growing up only a few hundred yards from Thomond Park, it was always a dream to play for them and to represent Ireland."
FRANCE XV (v Ireland): M Medard; V Clerc, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu; F Trinh-Duc; D Yachvili; J-B Poux, D Szarzewski, N Mas, P Pape, Y Maestri, T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinorodquy, L Picamoles. Replacements: W Servat, V Debaty, L Nallet, J Bonnaire; M Parra, L Beauxis, M Mermoz.