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Saturday 18 August 2018

Paris raid possible if Irish avoid air strikes

THE most interesting aspect of the selections is that France coach Philippe Saint-André has made one significant, unforced change since the original fixture between these countries was postponed.









He has brought Clermont-Auvergne’s Julien Bonnaire into the back row for Toulouse’s Louis Picamoles. In essence, he profits at the lineout for what he loses in ball carrying.

All the hoopla about the French lineout is fair comment. It is littered with options. Bonnaire and Imanol Harinordoquy bring world-class athleticism in the air to attack one of Ireland’s perceived strengths.

The equation is a simple one. Saint-André believes may not have anyone in Paul O’Connell’s class at lock, but he more than makes up for it with his back rowers. He wants to test the pressure points of the Irish lineout.

The problem for France could be that Ireland possess a devastating trio of carriers in the back row on the ground and they have yet to fire as a unit. Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip have played well individually.

Sean O’Brien is due an almighty 80. Could this be the day? Harinordoquy roams in the way Heaslip used to and Bonnaire is somewhere between a six and seven in style. The balance there does not look right.

Then again, Saint-André knows he can afford to alter his game plan because he has the reigning World Player of the Year, Thierry Dusautoir, there to cover over the cracks.

It is simple. Ireland need to avoid lineouts unless they are close enough to make France concentrate on

defending them rather than going after Rory Best’s throw.

As Rob Kearney indicated, Ireland’s kicking has to be a lot better exiting their half and also in making the ball contestable for the chasers.

In this regard, Clement Poitrenaud has been known to make the odd rash mistake. Jonathan Sexton has to pressurise the full-back.

The forwards must drive around the edges of the French ruck. The old Munster pick-and-go could be beneficial if the support players can get on the shoulder of the carrier for the offload.

In the scrum, the French look readymade to challenge Mike Ross’s anchor role. Healy will have to repel the gifted Nicolas Mas. Best will be crucial here. History is not on their side. The crowd won’t be either. If O’Connell can get his men to keep it tight, composed and play the game in France’s half, there is reason for optimism.

Ireland must keep it tight until the time is right.

Verdict: France

France: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra; J-B Poux, D Szarzewski, N Mas, P Pape, Y Maestri, T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinordoquy.

Ireland: Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, G D’Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O’Callaghan, P O‘Connell (capt), S Ferris, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

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