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Bod vs Moses

According to wikipedia, the not entirely reliable source of reference, France's wing sensation Vincent Clerc has been festooned with the nickname 'Moses'.

You could be forgiven for thinking it has been earned for the way he has parted the Irish sea of defenders when he has donned the blue of France.

From an Irish perspective, he is the most feared attacker in world rugby. The Toulouse flyer is the scourge of a nation and his appearance on the wing tomorrow is sure to send a shiver down the spine of any Irishman with the gift of memory.

In previous incarnations, he has wreaked havoc on the Irish, running in seven tries in five internationals, including a brace to end Eddie O'Sullivan's dream of World Cup glory in 2007 and a hat-trick to resist an improved Ireland five months later in the Six Nations.

Even so, the cruellest of his blows came when he sliced open Ireland for a last minute try to turn a near hysterical Croke Park into a graveyard of silence on the second Sunday of February in 2007.

It was one of those never-to-be-forgiven moments when he sailed outside the clutches of Paul O'Connell for a conclusive nail into the Irish coffin. It marked the death of another Grand Slam dream.

The way Clerc has been plucked from the bench by France coach Marc Lievremont for the injured Benjamin Fall seems too bad to be true. He will be driven by the fear of losing his place and inspired by the sight of his favourite colour -- green.

"The choice of Vincent Clerc didn't cause any debate," said Lièvremont succinctly, as Brive's Alexis Palisson received the faith of his coach ahead of Clermont-Auvergne's Julien Malzieu for the injured Aurelien Rougerie on the other wing.

It may not have been a point of discussion in France. It is certainly an issue of concern to Ireland. Coach Declan Kidney seemed to have Clerc in mind when he alluded to their magical skills. "The boys will also have to think on their feet. You can try and second guess France but that's dangerous. They bring the unexpected.

"That gets them playing free-flowing rugby and, when they play like that, they'll make hay against anybody," insisted Kidney.

Moreover, Clerc has not had to taste the bitter pill of defeat by Ireland since his first experience in the 2003 all-kicking, no-try 15-12 deflation at Lansdowne Road. If Ireland have good reason to fear the impact of Clerc as a world-class finisher, France must share the same doubts as to how to handle Brian O'Driscoll's greater all-round ability on how to shape a match.

Ireland's captain has also been able to record seven tries, but in 10 matches, against the French. He has had his jousts with Yannick Jauzoin and will come face-to-face with 17-stone Stade Francais behemoth Mathieu Bastereaud tomorrow.

To this point, O'Driscoll has book-ended his exploits by starting with that incomparable hat-trick of tries in the 27-25 eclipse of France in 2000 and vaporising the thick blue line for his seventh at Croke Park last year.

Despite this, O'Driscoll has endured more bad days than good against the French. A winning return of 40pc is not enough to keep this winner content. An interesting statistic about Ireland's record try-scorer (38) is that he is also the highest try-scoring centre in the history of the game in an area where space is at a premium. If there is a hole, he will find it. If there is none, he will make it appear. It is this God-like quality to see what others cannot that has turned him from a fine centre into the elusive Pimpernel of international rugby.

Of course, the eyes of the French defence will never stray too far from O'Driscoll. He has earned the reputation as a champion game-breaker, a player with just the right combinations of structure and unpredictability to make the French wish he was theirs.

The problem for France is that Robert Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls all have that ingredient of instinctive brilliance in their repertoire.

It could just be that Ireland prefers, on this occasion, to use the genius as a decoy, bringing those deemed a lesser threat into the action to confuse and confound the home side.

O'Driscoll could have been talking about his own back division earlier this week when he stressed: "There's a whole back line and the second you start thinking about one individual, the threats come from elsewhere".

France would do well to heed those words for their own self-preservation. Then again, maybe, just maybe, Clerc has also earned the right to special attention.


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