Ireland need to muster flair to beat French
Ireland will need all of the attacking flair it showed when thrashing Italy last weekend to stand a chance of ending its dismal losing streak in France when the teams meet in the Six Nations.
Ireland has only won twice on its travels to France in the last 40 years, and the home side will be favorite to win again at Stade de France on Sunday.
France has won at home to Italy and away to Scotland, and is already eyeing a potential Grand Slam decider away to Wales in two weeks' time.
Ireland started the tournament with a last-minute home defeat to Wales, but bounced back with an impressive 42-10 win against Italy.
"We're coming off the back of a good win and have scored five tries against Italy. It's very encouraging to go to France with that in the bank," Irish hooker Rory Best said. "The record books say that us winning in Paris doesn't happen very often, so from an Irish point of view it would be a massive result for us."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has kept the same team, while France coach Philippe Saint-Andre made two changes, recalling flanker Julien Bonnaire to match Ireland's lineout strength, and drafting in Clement Poitrenaud to replace the injured Maxime Medard at fullback.
The Irish have won only once at Stade de France - 27-25 in 2000 - since France started playing there in 1998. France's previous home game against Ireland, back in 1996, was at Parc des Princes and ended in a 45-10 rout, with former winger Saint-Andre among the seven French tryscorers. Ireland's previous win in France was a 14-9 victory in 1972.
The Irish will be even more motivated to give their fans something to sing about in the bars of Paris after the game.
Three weeks ago, Irish fans traveled in their thousands to Stade de France, only for the match to be called off five minutes before kickoff because of freezing weather conditions. Those who kept their tickets can watch the match again on Sunday, but there were no refunds for their initial travel and hotel costs.
"We go there full of confidence, but we're fully aware of how long it's been since we've beaten them in Paris," Best said. "It's a massive challenge, but we have a massive opportunity to write ourselves into the history books. As competitive players you want to have these big moments in your career."
Captain Paul O'Connell is confident that an Ireland side that boasts 575 test caps, with seven players with more than 40 caps, will stretch Saint-Andre's team.
"We have trained well and prepared well," O'Connell said. "A lot of the players have experience, either internationally or European, of going away from home and winning and we'll be looking to use that experience on Sunday."
However, Ireland is without injured center Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland's talisman, who burst onto the international scene with a hat trick of tries in Ireland's last win in France, 12 years ago.
"O'Driscoll is a great player for them, but we've also lost Maxime Medard," Saint-Andre said.
Medard, who injured his right knee minutes after scoring France's second try in the 23-17 win in Scotland, will have an operation on Monday and faces up to nine months out.
But Poitrenaud is no lightweight at international level, with 44 tests and a highly successful club career with Toulouse to his name, and it is hard to see a potential weakness in the France team for Ireland to target.
Saint-Andre has shored up France's inconsistent lineout by recalling Bonnaire, who is also one of France's best tacklers, as well as offering great mobility in the back row.
The 33-year-old Bonnaire is playing in his final Six Nations tournament.
"If we had won the World Cup I would have stopped. But I really wanted to play in this tournament," Bonnaire said. "We know what we're up against and the quality Ireland have. They're a more complete team than Scotland, but we have the means to win this game, and it starts in the scrum. It's going to be a big challenge for us in the back row."
Although Saint-Andre refuses to write off Ireland, he is struggling not to think about Wales, which has won its three games so far.
"Wales impress me, and now they have two games at home," Saint-Andre said. "They are the tournament favorites, but we must concentrate on our own game and keep improving."
France: Clement Poitrenaud, Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Wesley Fofana, Julien Malzieu, Francois Trinh-Duc, Morgan Parra; Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Jean-Baptiste Poux. Reserves: William Servat, Vincent Debaty, Lionel Nallet, Louis Picamoles, Julien Dupuy, Lionel Beauxis, Maxime Mermoz.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris, Paul O'Connell (captain), Donncha O'Callaghan, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Fergus McFadden.