France and Ireland face off in Paris
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The Six Nations rugby tournament hots up this weekend when two of the favourites to claim the title, France and Ireland, face each other in Paris.
Last season Ireland had the luxury of playing France and their old foes England in front of over 70,000 people in Dublin. But to win the Grand Slam again they must beat both sides away from home.
While Irish club sides like Munster and Leinster have regularly won on French soil, the national side has had much more difficulty imposing itself.
Indeed, Ireland have won only once in the past 38 years in the French capital. That was back in March 2000, when a 21-year-old Brian O’Driscoll announced his arrival on the world stage with a hat-trick of tries that inspired the Irish to a 27-25 victory.
O’Driscoll has matured since then to become one of the best centres in the world. Ireland went unbeaten in 2009 under his captaincy and he enjoyed more success at club level last season when Leinster won the European Cup.
While Ireland have been a model of consistency, France have been anything but under coach Marc Lièvremont, as his side are capable of being brilliant one week and desperately poor the next.
An obvious example from last year’s Six Nations is the team's rousing win over 2008 champions Wales at the Stade de France in February. That was followed by a 34-10 drubbing at the hands of England just two weeks later.
Both sides failed to set the world alight in their opening games of this year’s competition. Ireland laboured to a 29-11 over Italy at Croke Park and France won 18-9 in Scotland.
For Saturday’s game, Ireland will be without impressive Leinster youngster Luke Fitzgerald and Munster lock Donncha O’Callaghan.
But France’s problems have been mounting up over the past month. Already without the likes of Damien Traille, Sebastien Chabal and Julien Dupuy, wingers Aurélin Rougerie and Benjamin Fall were both injured during the Scotland game.
However, one of their replacements, Vincent Clerc, quite likes playing against Ireland. He has scored seven tries against the Irish, including a hat-trick the last time the sides met in a Six Nations match at the Stade de France two years ago.
The kicking game of Irish out-half Ronan O’Gara will be a worry for France, as is the Irish lineout, and they will also have to curb the creativity of O’Driscoll, Keith Earls and Gordon D’Arcy.
France will be hoping they can make their scrum count and feed off the passion of their fans. Like the past few encounters between these sides in Paris, the home side will hope to do damage in the first 20 minutes. But with inflated expectations weighing down both teams, it’s likely to be tight.
Also on Saturday, Wales face Scotland needing to bounce back from their 30-17 defeat in England. The English should escape from Italy with full points on Sunday, but they’ll be keeping a keen eye on events at the Stade de France as well.
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