Merle is ready for close scrutiny

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The Independent Online
Olivier Merle, France's controversial lock, is not concerned about being the centre of attention when he returns for France against Ireland in their Five Nations match in Dublin tomorrow.

"I expect to be looked at but I'm not a bit worried," said Merle, who was dropped after head butting the Welsh prop Ricky Evans, who subsequently broke his leg, at Parc des Princes on 21 January. "There will always be somebody who has nothing to do but watch and wait for me to make a mistake."

Merle, who burst into the limelight by helping France to two brilliant wins over the All Blacks in New Zealand last year, was left out of the French side who were beaten in their last two Five Nations matches against England and Scotland.

His return is one of the six changes made by Pierre Berbizier from the team upset 23-21 by Scotland at Parc des Princes on 24 February. "Merle is a first-choice player and it's good to have him back," said Berbizier, who counts on the 29-year-old former woodcutter to improve France's performance in the scrums and the lineouts.

Merle, who will pair up with Oliver Brouzet, said he hoped to be called up for the World Cup starting in May in South Africa. "But you never know what the future will bring," said Merle, who until his misdemeanour had not missed an international since his first cap last year against South Africa.

Merle, a shot putter before taking up rugby six years ago, said: "God knows how I managed to succeed in rugby so fast. Maybe it was because I knew how to get ready physically and mentally without anybody's help."

Merle, a social worker helping juvenile delinquents, said he wants to make a fresh start himself. "I did something wrong but there's no need to go on and on about it," he said. "Now I just want to play rugby and show what I'm really worth."