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Stepping into 'Le Cauldron'

Declan Kidney has urged Ireland to end their 10-year wait for success in Paris by rising to the most daunting challenge in the quest for back-to-back Six Nations titles.

The Grand Slam champions' defence will face its first major examination when they face tournament favourites France in today's late kick-off at the Stade de France.

Ireland last triumphed in the French capital in 2000 and head coach Kidney admits France's home record is to be respected.

"If you're not excited about this one there's no reason to be here," said Kidney. "It's probably the ultimate challenge in Six Nations rugby when you see France have lost just twice in their last 20 Six Nations matches at home.

"Not many sides are capable of achieving a home record like that. We'll give it our best shot (to end it)."

On their previous two visits, Ireland were guilty of making suicidal starts that enabled Les Bleus to establish half-time leads of 29-3 and 19-6.

Les Bleus were pegged back to 43-31 in 2006 and 26-21 in 2008 thanks to a pair of courageous fightbacks, but those defeats have highlighted to Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll the need to avoid conceding early tries.

"I don't think we're feeling any trepidation from having lost so often in Paris," O'Driscoll said.

"A great lesson was two years ago when we didn't want the final whistle to go.

"We gave them a very large lead and managed to reel them in. Knowing what we're capable of doing, you have to take the pluses from games, even when you lose.

"We know we're capable of scoring tries in Paris; it's just a case of making sure we don't concede four in the first half," added the Leinster man, who burst on to the international scene with a hat-trick of tries in the 2000 win at the same venue.

"We don't have to accept that France are going to come out of the blocks, it's about trying to get out of the blocks ourselves and take the game to them."

The Irish camp have avoided taking the bait and getting into a slagging match laid down by several French players and manager Marc Lievremont this week, though that hasn't stopped the home side continuing with their tirade of gratuitously insulting comments about the defending champions.

The latest to have a go is Clermont-Auvergne scrum-half Morgan Parra, who has taken it upon himself to label the defending Grand Slam champions as a team of 'cheats'.

Notwithstanding the fact that most French people have been a bit sheepish of late when faced with the concepts of cheating, Ireland and the Stade de France, Parra has attempted to wind the Irish up, and influence the referee, by labelling them the biggest cheats of all.

"They cheat every weekend," Parra said. "So that won't be a surprise. They have experienced players who can do so.

"We dissected the video very well. There's not a moment when they're not cheating.

"They have a great defence. (They're) cheating, but intelligently cheating. It's very well done.

"If we did the same thing, we would be punished each time. But instead they're the least penalised team in the tournament, which is very impressive."

3FRANCE v IRELAND, RTé2/BBC1, KO 4.30


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