Ireland ready for French scrum in Six Nations clash, says Best

Paris (AFP) –


Ireland captain Rory Best insisted on Friday that the changes to France's scrum would not catch the reigning Six Nations champions by surprise.

Ireland play their first away match of this season's tournament at the Stade de France on Saturday, determined to make up for the difficulties they suffered up front against Wales a week ago.

And although France coach Guy Noves changed his two props from last week's narrow 23-21 win over Italy in the same stadium, Best says the Irish won't be caught cold a second week in a row.

"France have got a very, very good squad. No matter who they pick you know it's going to be a tough challenge," said the Ulster hooker.

"There are three changes in the front five; it certainly freshens things up and paints a bit of a different picture for us, but it by no means weakens them."

The hulking pair of Uini Atonio and Jefferson Poirot have taken the places of Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben-Arous, who both drop to the bench.

"From the scrum point of view the four props haven't changed from the last matchday squad," added the 33-year-old.

"It's something that we pride ourselves on, is that we put as much attention and detail onto the subs as we do onto the others because sometimes, and a lot of the time, it's the end of the game that is the winning of it."

- Wales draw -

Ireland, who started with a 16-16 draw against Wales last week that ruled out a Grand Slam, have not lost to France in their last five, but Best says that run should not have any affect on Saturday's outcome.

"We've had a fantastic record here under (head coach) Joe Schmidt -- I think we've only played here once (a 22-20 success two years ago)! It's an incredibly tough place to play," he said.

"I've played here quite a few times -- certainly in the early part of my career -- with no joy whatsoever. They're a quality side, it's a very, very tough place to come and play.

"Whenever they sing the French national anthem, if you're a rugby neutral or a fan and in the ground, it's a great place to be because it's sung with so much passion.

"Obviously from the players' point of view you have to block all that out but you know it will be a great atmosphere tomorrow.

"But ultimately it comes down to rugby and they're a quality side and we know that we're going to have to be better than we were last week to get a result."

One element most concerning the champions is France's ability to hit them on the counter.

Fijian-born wing Virimi Vakatawa was one of the few bright points from France's disappointing performance against the Italians.

He will be joined in their back three by the returning wing Teddy Thomas and Maxime Medard, who retains his place at full-back.

Ireland's assistant coach Simon Easterby said: "If you look at their back three -- Vakatawa and now bringing in Teddy Thomas and Medard -- they pride themselves on playing that type of game (counter-attack) to stretch any defence and look for offloads and weaknesses.

"Certainly it's something we have to prepare for. If we kick, we have to make sure our kick chase is good and that we get a good line in place and don't allow them any soft access into our defensive line, which I think we did last week.

"This French side poses a different kind of threat and they're possibly more expansive in terms of their counter-attack."