Rugby Union: Ashton confident of rekindling Irish fury

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The Independent Online
Brian Ashton's chances of triumphing in his first game as the Ireland coach received a boost when the French centre Richard Dourthe withdrew with concussion on the eve of the Five Nations opener. He has been replaced by Stephane Glas.

It is a considerable blow to France given Dourthe's strengths as a penetrating centre and defender as well as goalkicker. The other centre Thomas Castaignede will take over the kicking duties. However, it is worth remembering that in this fixture in Paris last year Glas came on as a replacement midway through the first half, and his partnership with Castaignede paved the way for France's 45-10 victory. Laurent Leflamand, already in Ireland with the France A team, will take the vacant place on the bench.

Ashton resigned as coach of the Courage League champions Bath a fortnight ago and was immediately snapped up as successor to Murray Kidd as coach of Ireland. Ashton led Bath to 10 trophies in the past seven years, but he has had his fair share of disappointments.

England lost twice in New Zealand in 1985 when he first took on his coaching job. He was also in charge during England's unsuccessful Five Nations campaign in 1986, quitting after the 29-10 loss in Paris. "I could not see any way forward for England then," he said. "But I really can see a way forward for Ireland now. I would not have taken the job if I were not optimistic. I have been with Ireland for only a week of squad work in Limerick and Dublin, but I've established an excellent relationship with the players.

"We are convinced that we have an outstanding pack who can play a competitive game in the important tight phases and in the loose. I hope to rekindle the Irish fury and fire and also to develop areas that the French will not be expecting.

"International rugby is all about getting the basics right, kicking your own goals and then doing something off the cuff that ambushes the opposition. Ireland have occasionally been good at those skills - notably when they beat England in 1993 and '94. We must ensure that Ireland do that regularly."

Jean-Claude Skrela, the French coach, says he will make use of his entire squad if necessary after the withdrawal of Dourthe, who was knocked out during training on Thursday. Since the introduction of tactical substitutions in November, coaches have dabbled in taking players off. "A rugby team must now be regarded as 21 players and we will be pushing people on the pitch in the second half at relevant times," Skrela said.

Pierre Villepreux, who drifts as coaching guru between France and England, is back with his fellow countrymen demanding better commitment. "France did not score a single try in losing to South Africa at the end of last year," he said. "Some players were shy of taking the responsibilities in attack and defence. We lost in France twice to the Springboks. If we are similarly tentative in away matches in the Five Nations, we could suffer."

Ireland have not beaten France since 1983 so Dublin's faithful at Lansdowne Road today will be looking to their latest import for a change in the prevailing winds of Irish rugby.

IRELAND v FRANCE

at Lansdowne Road

C O'Shea London Irish 15 J-L Sadourny Colomiers

J Topping Ballymena 14 E Ntamack Toulouse

M Field Malone 13 S Glas Bourgoin

J Bell Northampton 12 T Castaignede Toulouse

D Crotty Garryowen 11 D Venditti Brive

E Elwood Lansdowne 10 A Penaud Brive

N Hogan Terenure College 9 F Galthie Colomiers

N Popplewell Newcastle 1 C Califano Toulouse

K Wood Harlequins, capt 2 M Dal Maso Agen

P Wallace Saracens 3 F Tournaire Narbonne

P Johns Saracens 4 O Merle Montferrand

J Davidson London Irish 5 H Miorin Toulouse

D Corkery Bristol 6 A Benazzi Agen, capt

D McBride Malone 8 P Benetton Agen

E Miller Leicester 7 F Pelous Dax

Referee: A Watson (South Africa) Kick-off: 3pm

Replacements: 16 K McQuilkin (Lansdowne), 17 D Humphreys (London Irish), 18 S McIvor (Garryowen), 19 G Fulcher (London Irish), 20 P Flavin (Blackrock Coll), 21 A Clarke (Northampton).

Replacements: 18 L Leflamand (Bourgoin), 17 C Lamaison (Brive), 16 M Carbonneau (Brive), 20 R Castel (Beziers) 19 J-L Jordana (Toulouse), 21 R Ibanez (Dax).

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