Kidney hopes to spring a shock
Declan Kidney is something of a closed book even to those who have known the Ireland coach for several years but he’s unlikely to be caught crooning the Cole Porter classic I Love Paris in the Springtime if handed a microphone and asked to belt one out on the team bus.
It is one of the stranger statistics kicking around the Six Nations playground but Ireland have just two wins in the French capital in the last 60 years, which makes Scotland’s tally of six in the same timeframe look almost heroic by comparison. The last time Ireland loved Paris in the spring was back in 2000 and even then it took a superlative hat-trick of tries from a very young Brian O’Driscoll as the Irishman announced himself a special talent to the watching world.
If at first you don’t succeed. . .
This is, of course, the second attempt to get the fixture played after the original game was disgracefully called off ten minutes ahead of kick-off. The disgrace lies not with English referee Dave Pearson, who made the unpopular decision, but with the International Rugby Board and French rugby federation for making mugs of 80,000 supporters, many of whom had paid good money to make the trip. French winger Vincent Clerc tweeted his doubts about the viability of the game fully five days ahead of the due date and, if he harboured serious doubts, the officials should have brought the kick-off forward because, even without the frost, 9pm was stupidly late, on account of television demands we can only suppose.
The only way to make the pitch playable was to harness the steam coming from the ears of the spectators crammed into the Stade de France but at least one man was a little relieved at the decision to postpone. Irish stand-off Johnny Sexton was nursing a sore groin similar to the one that affects Chris Paterson and the two-week delay has enabled the Irish playmaker to return to full fitness.
“Yeah, I was fit to play,” he insists. “I would have been able to play but, obviously, when you’ve got a little niggle, you’d prefer not to. So I was happy to get it called off and have a week to get it right, then get another game under my belt. I haven’t played too many games in 2012 – three maybe – so it was good to get another one under my belt.
“It was a strange one. It happened midweek. It wasn’t an issue running around, it was only when I got into place-kicking that it was really at me. We had a good couple of sessions on the Friday and then two again on the day of the game. We got it to a stage where I was able to function with it. It wasn’t one hundred per cent but I was able to play. But now I’m delighted it’s back at one hundred per cent and good to go.”
Sexton and the rest of Kidney’s squad will need to be at their best if they are to turn over the French. Les Bleus got a fright against Scotland and, if there was any complacency in the squad, the near miss at Murrayfield will have put paid to that.
In an effort to counter one of the best lineouts in the championship, France have dropped the giant Louis Picamoles and replaced him with the more athletic Clermont breakaway Julien Bonnaire. Imanol Harinordoquy switches to No.8 and has vowed to play better than he did in Edinburgh, where he came and went without ever making his mark.
The only other change to the French line-up is full-back Clemont Poitrenaud replacing his injured club colleague Maxime Médard, who is out of action for six to nine months with damage to his knee ligaments.
Ireland have stuck with the same side that chalked up 42 points against Italy, even if they were made to wait until the second half before cutting loose. Kidney made the point midweek that several of the Irish provinces have tasted success in France in the Heineken Cup, with Munster winning in Castres and Leinster earning a draw in Montpellier, while Ulster lost but performed heroics against Clermont, who are unbeaten at home since November, 2009.
Sadly for Ireland, provincial form seems to count for little otherwise Wales would be struggling instead of boasting a Triple Crown and the opportunity to register their third Grand Slam in eight years.
The Irish are unlikely to be in the mood for a sing song after this match but, if it happens, a Bee Gees’ number is the best bet – You Win Again.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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