In the second 6 Nations game Ireland play host to France.
Declan Kidney’s Ireland play hosts to France at Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday in the first round of the 2009 Six Nations Championship.
The weather will affect the match with cold, wind to make it colder and snow possible. But presumably the match will go ahead and there will be many pinched faces at Croke Park on Saturday.
What sort of game it will be is uncertain. In the November Tests Ireland found tries hard to come by. Oh, they scored tries against Canada and the Pacific Islands but not many against other oppostion. France played Argentina and Australia and managed one try – a penalty try. Ireland played New Zealand and Argentina and managed one try. Between the two of them they played 320 minutes of rugby for two tries. A try fest at cold Croke Park is unlikely.
France have a big side. They said they had picked big forwards to counter the fearsome Irish pack. It’s not really all that fearsome. In fact the props have a decidedly rickety look and maybe even the French props may get the better of them.
Ireland are still likely to be better at the line-outs even with tall Imanol Harinordoquy in the French side.
That leaves the loose forward battle, which could be a crucial one. Somehow Ireland look more likely to win this one, especially with scratchy Harinordoquy there, though promising, strong, fast, effective Louis Picamoles may get on early.
France have also picked big backs. The days of Christophe Dominci, it seems, are well buried. From scrumhalf outwards they are big men. Being big men they lack the ability to dodge. In fact creativity will not be their weapon of choice. They are more likely to score tries by bludgeoning than by skipping past the defence. The romantic days of French flair seem dead and buried.
Ireland have three places where tries are possible – Rob Kearney who manages to be both calm and zestful, Luke Fitzgerald who could well use his feet to dart around French mastodons, and Brian O’Driscoll, not quite the player he used to be but still capable of springing a surprise and of doing cleverer things than anybody else chosen for this match.
O’Driscoll thinks he has exciting backs and hopes for tries but he also says: “It’s getting more and more difficult to get line-breaks at international level. There are different personnel in for this game and so we’ve worked hard at trying to be a unit and understanding one another.”
It is a match in which strong emotion is possible. Both sides are eager to start well and the French are used to fighting in their domestic rugby. Much will depend on the manful leadership of Paul O’Connell whose decisive way of acting gives the lie to his bewildered appearance. Then, too, the Welsh referee Nigel Owens has been on form and is unlikely to suffer silliness.
Players to Watch: Robert Kearney could just be the brightest new star in Europe. He is fast, strong and adventurous. He is willing to have a go and spots a chance to run instinctively. The other interesting players in the Irish side are also relative newcomers – Luke Fitzgerald and Stephen Ferris.
There is nobody exciting in this oversized French side, and if they play the way the French clubs have been playing they will not be exciting. Mind you, the somewhat controversial selection of Clément Poitrenaud could be of interest. Oh and Maxime Medard may be enterprising – if he gets a chance.
And you will notice Sébastien Chabal, such a big personality in French rugby but a player who looks far fiercer than he is.
Head to Head: The two new scrumhalves Tomas O’Leary and Sébastien Tillous-Borde will be eager to impress and want to test each other so early in their international careers.
At the other end of the experienced stakes there could be an interesting clash between Brian O’Driscoll and Yannick Jauzion, both at one stage amongst the best centres in the world but maybe less so now.
In the pack there are two lively and feisty hookers – Jerry Flannery and Dimitri Szarzewski and the scrap between Thierry Dusautoir and the promising young Stephen Ferris could be interesting and significant.
Goal-kicking counts. Ireland have reliable, experienced Ronan O’Gara while France have less reliable Lionel Beauxis and perhaps, if he comes on, Benoît Baby for longer strikes. O’Gara would normally be better than the Frenchmen.
The two teams have met 84 times. France have won 51 times, Ireland 28 times and there have been five draws.
2008: France won 26-21 at Stade de France, Paris
2007: France won 25-3 at Stade de France, Paris
2007: France won 20-17 at Croke Park, Dublin
2006: France won 43-31 at Stade de France, Paris
2005: France won 26-19 at Lansdowne Road, Dublin
2004: France won 35-17 at Stade de France, Paris
2003: France won 43-21 at Colonial Stadium, Melbourne
2003: Ireland won 16-12 at Lansdowne Road, Dublin
2002: France won 44-5 at Stade de France, Paris
2001: Ireland won 22-15 at Lansdowne Road, Dublin
2000: Ireland won 27-25 at Stade de France, Paris
rugby365 Prediction: The teams ended fourth and fifth in last year’s Six Nations. It is likely to be close. One would hope that victory would go to the brave and the creative. We predict that Ireland will by five points or more.
Ireland: 15 Robert Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, (captain), 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Tomas O’Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Tom Court, 18 Malcolm O’Kelly, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Gordon D’Arcy, 22 Geordan Murphy
France: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Yannick Jauzion, 12 Florian Fritz , 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Sébastien Chabal, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Benoît Lecouls, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Lionel Faure.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Nicolas Mas, 18 Romain Millo-Chluski, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 ,Morgan Parra 21 Benoît Baby, 22 Cédric Heymans
Date: Saturday 7 February
Time: 17.00 (17.00 GMT)
Venue: Croke Park, Dublin
Expected weather conditions: Chance of snow, a high of 4°C but the northwester of 39 km/h will bring that down to -6°C. The wind will change and the windchill abate but it will not be a day for Balbriggan Beach.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: David Pearson (England), David Changleng (Scotland)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)