With both teams out of contention for this year’s title, you will be forgiven for labelling Saturday’s RBS Six Nations clash between Ireland and France a dead rubber. But for those concerned, it will be anything but, with both head coaches facing increasing pressure due to their side’s dismal campaigns thus far, and the loser facing the embarrassing prospect of the wooden spoon.
Ireland boss Declan Kidney will have been optimistic following their opening weekend victory over Wales in Cardiff, but injuries and suspension has hit his squad hard which has seem the Irish fall to England and Scotland. With Simon Zebo and Jonathan Sexton already ruled out, winger Craig Gilroy was left off the team sheet due to a groin strain, so Fergus McFadden will start in his place.
Kidney has named Paddy Jackson at fly-half, despite him suffering from a tight hamstring in training this week. Leinster's Ian Madigan was ready poised to make his debut should Jackson fail to recover, but he should still feature from the bench, meaning there is no place for Ronan O'Gara - whose international career appears to be over barring an injury crisis at number 10. Second-row Mike McCarthy returns in place of Donncha O'Callaghan, while Cian Healy is recalled following his suspension for stamping after a successful appeal on the start date of his ban.
Following their 23-13 defeat to England, France are looking to end a losing streak that see's them yet to win in the championship this season. Once again, Philippe Saint-Andre has made changes, with the surprising choice of recalling fly-half Frederik Michalak in place of Francois Trinh-Duc. The former came in for a lot of criticism in the opening defeats to Italy and Wales, and he was dropped to the bench for the game at Twickenham.
Despite a much improved performance, a host of unnecessary changes by Saint-Andre potentially cost France 'Le Crunch', and they will be searching for their first win this year in the Fair City. Racing Metro wing Benjamin Fall and Toulon lock Jocelino Sota are dropped from the squad completely, while Mathieu Bastareaud and Trinh-Duc will feature from the bench, with Florian Fritz and Maxime Menard returning to the staring XV. Thierry Dusautoir retains the captaincy in the absence of Pascal Pape, and his return from injury last month has brought an edge to the French breakdown that they will need when facing the physical Irish.
The encounter should see a battle of power up front, though Ireland will be wary of the threat that Wesley Fofana and his fellow backs pose against a somewhat make-shift Irish backline. Given the space, Fofana showed what he can do with a try from near-halfway at HQ two weeks ago, and despite some questionable tackling, the centre is clearly France's main attacking threat.
Youngster Luke Marshall will have a mammoth job on his hands to contain the Frenchman, though having Brian O'Driscoll outside him will certainly help him to shackle the Clermont Auvergne man.
Ireland - Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Marshall, Keith Earls; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Mike McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip (c).
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Donncha O'Callaghan, Iain Henderson, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald.
France - Yoann Huget; Vincent Clerc, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard; Frederik Michalak, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Nicolas Mas; Christophe Samson, Yoann Maestri; Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir (c), Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Antonie Claasen, Maxime Machenaud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 5pm.
PAST THREE MEETINGS...
France 17 Ireland 17, Six Nations, March 2012
Ireland 22 France 26, World Cup Warm-up, August 2011
France 19 Ireland 12, World Cup Warm-up, August 2011.
Ireland have a poor record against the French, winning 29 matches and losing 55, with six draws between the two sides.
Ireland have not beaten France at Lansdowne Road for 10 years since a 15-12 victory in March 2003, though they did win at Croke Park in 2009.
Brian O'Driscoll has scored eight tries against France, while Jamie Heaslip and Ronan O'Gara have two each - Fergus McFadden, Sean O'Brien and Donncha O'Callaghan have one each.
Similarly, Vincent Clerc has scored eight tries against Ireland, while Maxine Medard has scored twice. Both Wesley Fofana and Francois Trinh-Duc have one try each.
It is France's worst start to a championship since 1982 when they lost their first three games - they have not gone four games without a win since 1969.
11 February 2007 - Ireland 17 France 20
France had taken the lead through a Raphael Ibanez converted try and two penalties from David Skrela, but a try and three penalties from Ronan O'Gara had edged Ireland into the lead by a point in an enthralling second half. A fourth penalty in the 77th minute looked to end the game, but France had other ideas. With the Irish failing to claim the restart, France quickly attacked down the right hand side at Croke Park. When the ball was recycled to the backs, Vincent Clerc danced through the Irish defence to break Irish hearts and score the match-winning try.
PLAYER TO WATCH...
Ireland: Brian O'Driscoll - The Irish talisman was back to his best when Ireland defeated Wales in Cardiff, but he has failed to replicate that form in the defeats to England and Scotland. He now has the daunting task of shackling Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud, and he'll have to do it without his Leinster partner Gordon D'Arcy who is out injured. However, his replacement Luke Marshall showed a lot of promise last time out, and should he attract the attentions of the French midfield, you can expect O'Driscoll to exploit the space behind with ease.
France: Frederik Michalak - Having displayed two lacklustre performances against Italy and Wales, Michalak was unsurprisingly dropped for the match at Twickenham. It is a shock to see him back in the starting line-up so soon, considering his replacement Francois Trinh-Duc gave France a platform to attack from. All eyes will be on the number ten, who has spent this season playing scrum-half for Toulon with Jonny Wilkinson possessing the fly-half jersey, yet Saint-Andre continues to deploy him at outside-half.
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