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Saturday 16 December 2017

Under-fire Kidney admits 'buckets to work on' for French exam

IRELAND'S Six Nations squad will reconvene tomorrow to prepare for a major character test -- tackling tournament favourites France in Paris.

Life is not about to get any easier for the 2009 Six Nations champions and Grand Slam winners.

Beaten 23-21 at home by Wales just four months after suffering World Cup elimination against the same opponents, Ireland's tournament will effectively be over before it has barely started should they lose at the Stade de France on Saturday night.

The good news for coach Declan Kidney is that he has no major injury concerns.

Centre Keith Earls (inset) is due to rejoin the squad after missing the Wales game for personal reasons, with Kidney announcing his team on Thursday. "We've buckets to work on and six days to do it. I know we are a lot better than that," Kidney said.

"We put ourselves under a lot of pressure defensively.

"You have to give credit to Wales. Sometimes it is not just all down to you, but there are some aspects that we can be disappointed with individually.

"We have to be smart enough to do the work that needs to be done, but wise enough to understand that it is a six-day turnaround."

The odds are stacked against Ireland avoiding a second successive tournament defeat, especially given a startling statistic that shows just one victory over Les Bleus in France since 1972. One newspaper and television pundit claimed that Ireland were lurching "lemming-like towards the abyss," and there can be little doubt that the heat is on Kidney.

"We put ourselves on the back foot, and it is tough to win when the try-count is 3-2 against you," Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip said.

"When we had the ball we put a lot of pressure on Wales, but they held strong and when they had the ball they were dangerous for long periods."

There was further gloom for Ireland today when the International Rugby Board released their latest world rankings list.

The defeat against Wales saw Ireland drop two places to eighth, their lowest position since the IRB rankings began.

Wales, meanwhile, moved up to sixth, one spot behind England and five clear of Scotland, who have dropped outside of the world's top 10.

France, conquerors of Italy two days ago, remain third behind world champions and runaway leaders New Zealand, while Australia lie second.

Meanwhile, Ulster are close to winning the race to sign Tommy Bowe, with the Ireland winger poised to return to his native province next season.

Although no deal is believed to have been signed as yet, sources claim contract talks are at "an advanced stage".

Bowe scored a try for Ireland in Sunday's defeat. Munster had been favourites to secure him, but it is now understood that Ulster are hopeful of securing his prized signature.

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