French eye Irish scalp at Six Nations in Dublin
DUBLIN (AFP) –
France hope to ease fears of a first wooden spoon since 1957 with their first victory of the Six Nations on Saturday against an Ireland side who are also in danger of ending up with the tailenders unwanted “prize”.
A campaign that opened with plenty of optimism after a successful November series of three Test wins has descended into deep depression and a desperate France coach Philippe Saint-Andre saying he will settle even for a 3-0 win.
Defeats to Italy in Rome, at home to a Wales side that had lost its previous eight Tests and England at Twickenham have even had some hankering after the rollercoaster ride that was previous coach Marc Lievremont’s hallmark.
Saint-Andre, whose side have made the worst start to a Five/Six Nations tournament since their 1982 predecessors also lost three on the bounce, will not want to come away from Dublin needing to beat a revitalised Scotland in Paris on Saturday week.
He is facing a fellow coach whose position is also under some scrutiny in Declan Kidney, the high of the 2009 Grand Slam — the last time the hosts beat France and their only victory over them in the last 13 meetings since 2003 long faded.
Ireland started the present tournament with a stunning 43-minute onslaught of last year’s Grand Slam champions Wales.
However, despite hanging on by their fingernails for victory that day after a Wales fightback it has been a slog ever since with narrow defeats to England and Scotland.
Injuries to first choice fly-half Jonathan Sexton and exciting wings Jonathan Zebo and Craig Gilroy as well as to veteran centre Gordon D’Arcy during the tournament have exposed how thin their playing resources are.
France will hope to expose that and finally click as an attacking unit on Saturday having scored just three tries so far as the halfbacks have failed to spark the backline.
A lot of the blame for that has fallen on the shoulders of the ever unpredictable Frederic Michalak, who to many people’s surprise has been reinstated as starting fly-half on Saturday instead of Francois Trinh-Duc.
Trinh-Duc had looked to have steadied the ship when he began alongside Morgan Parra in the England game and it was from the time he was taken off and replaced by Michalak with over an hour to go that France’s game went astray.
However, Saint-Andre insisted that Michalak had rediscovered his sharpness over the past fortnight and he will hope the player repays his faith and spark the attacking talents of the likes of Wesley Fofana, scorer of a great try against England.
However, Saint-Andre said he doesn’t care if they fail to score tries so long as the score reads in their favour.
“The French team’s role is to win and win well but in our situation, we’d take a 3-0 victory,” he said.
“You’ve got to make your own luck. We didn’t face up to the situation in the first three matches. We’ve got to score when we’re playing well, concede fewer points when we’re not (and) be better defensively. We’ve got to learn to win again.”
Ireland’s problem against the Scots was that despite dominating for much of the match their young fly-half Paddy Jackson could barely buy himself three points so inaccurate was his kicking.
Kidney has stuck by him after he came through a fitness test but he faces an enormous test of character in front of his home crowd.
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip, whose form and captaincy has been under fire, admits the hosts have to somehow rediscover the form they showed in the opening 43 minutes against Wales if they are to deny the French.
“The problems since then have been more about our accuracy. Against Wales we were on the money in terms of delivering at key moments and that’s what we need this weekend. Though it’s a massive challenge.”