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O'Gara wants flying start as Ferris lifts Irish hopes

Ronan O'Gara has urged his Ireland team-mates to end their decade-long wait for success in France by exploding out of the blocks. The Six Nations champions face the greatest threat to their title defence when they meet the championship favourites at the Stade de France tomorrow evening.

It is 10 years since Ireland have prevailed in Paris, a barren spell that has not been helped by hitting the self-destruct button on the last two visits. On both occasions France were allowed to establish a big lead before surviving a rousing, if futile, fightback.

In 2006 Ireland trailed 29-3 at half-time before succumbing 43-31, while two years later they conceded a 19-6 interval lead in a match they ultimately lost 26-21.

"We've always given France too much of a head start when we've gone to Paris," said O'Gara, who started both games. "They're a formidable team when you let them play their game and they're on the front foot.

"We're usually 20-odd points down and while we manage to get back into it, it's always too late. The start is imperative this weekend.

"The first 20 minutes is exactly what we're looking at. From the national point of view it's been too long since we've won there so we're keen to address that."

O'Gara's rallying cry have been taken up by his Munster colleague Jerry Flannery, who was also in action four years ago when France suffered an astonishing collapse.

In total there are six survivors from the 2008 side and eight from 2006, while only O'Gara, John Hayes and Brian O'Driscoll remain from the team that triumphed 27-25 in 2000.

"The French are very strong at home and have had an edge over us but we're trying not to let past results affect us mentally," said Flannery.

"We beat France last season to win our first Grand Slam for 61 years so if the history thing was pulling us back too much we wouldn't have got anywhere last year either."

Ireland received a major boost when flanker Stephen Ferris was passed fit for tomorrow's game. Ferris missed the 29-11 victory over Italy with the knee injury sustained on Heineken Cup duty for Ulster against Bath last month.

But the powerful 24-year-old successfully came through training yesterday and will take his place in Ireland's back row.

Leinster's Kevin McLaughlin drops out of the squad, along with Ulster wing Andrew Trimble.

IRELAND: R Kearney, T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; C Healy, J Flannery, J Hayes, L Cullen, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Best, T Court, D Ryan, S O'Brien, E Reddan, J Sexton, P Wallace.


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