Monday 1 May 2017

Saint-Andre wary of Irish resistance

David Kelly

David Kelly

French coach Philippe Saint-Andre has beefed up an already formidable pack for Saturday's Six Nations clash with Ireland in Paris and declared that his side will try to take advantage of the visitors' "different defence and attack".

In a clear sign that he sees Irish difficulty as French opportunity, Saint-Andre will be keen to ensure that his side maintain their impressive record of losing just once to Ireland in Paris since 1972.

"Like everyone else, I was impressed by the intensity of the match for 80 minutes," commented the new French coach on Ireland's defeat to Wales.

"The Irish were very good in touch and in the air duels, with a very good back in the kicking game in Rob Kearney. Defensively, they played differently than usual. Against Australia during the World Cup, they played with a completely different defensive and offensive system."

Saint-Andre is conscious of the huge hole left in Ireland's midfield by Brian O'Driscoll's absence, and he seems to be expecting a defensive mindset, albeit, from Irish supporters' viewpoints, hopefully not one as passive as Sunday's effort.

"We have tremendous respect for the Italians but the Irish have a culture of midfield," he said. "Even if O'Driscoll is injured, there are two decent customers, and it will be an offensive test but mostly defensive.

"They will offer us something more varied than the Italians. We will have different problems defensively. Saturday's game will be very interesting. It'll be a very high level."

The new French coach has not tinkered with his formidable backline, who scored four tries against Italy in the opening win, but all four changes in the pack arguably strengthen his starting XV.

Despite thoughts that he might replace out-half Francois Trinh-Duc, heavily criticised by former coach Marc Lievremont in published extracts from his autobiography, Saint-Andre has retained faith in the No 10.

"I have not read too much, but what came out on Saturday was not the best mental preparation for him," said Saint-Andre.

"He played a part in three or four of the tries. For the first, he put Aurelien Rougerie in space. For Vincent Clerc's try, he made the difference.

Strategy

"Our kicking game was not great but it was not just his fault, even though he missed two kick-offs. There are three or four players who must take responsibility for our kicking game."

Ireland's perennial scourge Imanol Harinordoquy replaces Julien Bonnaire in a monstrous back-row where he will also be detailed to spoil the visitors' excellent line-out work; hooker Dimitri Szarzewski is also brought in to replace the struggling William Servat.

Saint-Andre was also tempted to retain Bonnaire at the expense of No 8 Louis Picamoles, but the latter's stand-out display demanded that he remain.

"I thought about it but Picamoles' performance, defensively and offensively, was great. He made a lot of tackles and he managed to destroy the Italian rucks," Saint-Andre explained.

The experienced Jean-Baptiste Poux, who has form in combating Mike Ross, replaces debutant Vincent Debaty in the front-row, while the exciting Yoann Maestri earns a first start in the second-row, with former skipper Lionel Nallet losing out.

"When he came off the bench, he was flawless," Saint-Andre enthused of Maestri.

"When the Italians wanted to carry the ball, he stopped them. He was also exceptionally clean at the breakdown.

"He has everything to be a great lock. He's an interesting option for the line-out. With him, Pascal Pape and Imanol, we have three quality jumpers."

France -- M Medard; V Clerc, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu; F Trinh-Duc, D Yachvili; JB Poux, D Szarzewski, N Mas; P Pape, Y Maestri; T Dusautoir, I Harinordoquy, L Picamoles. Reps: W Servat, V Debaty, L Nallet, J Bonnaire, M Parra, L Beauxis, M Mermoz.

Irish Independent

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