Saturday 24 March 2018

Paris victory would be ‘career highlight’ for Ireland’s second-row colossus

Hugh Farrelly

PAUL O'CONNELL is desperate to break his Stade de France duck tomorrow and says winning in Paris would represent a "career highlight".

The 66-times capped second-row colossus has won two Heineken Cups with Munster and a Grand Slam with Ireland but has lost on each of his four Six Nations trips to the Stade de France and believes it is time for that record to change.

"It would be a highlight in my career," insisted O'Connell. "In my earlier years I looked at guys like (former Ireland and Munster prop) Peter Clohessy having very, very tough times over there.

"The history of the fixture gives us motivation. If we beat France it will be an incredible feeling and a good box ticked. Irish teams sometimes went to Paris with high hopes, sometimes not, but always came off second best.

"But it's got to the stage now where we believe we can go over there and win. Now we need to actually do it. We talk about us being a more confident team than any other Irish side. We've always taken talented teams to Paris but now we're going there with a Grand Slam. You can't argue with that."

Ireland were boosted by the inclusion of Stephen Ferris on the blindside flank following the Ulster man's successful recovery from a knee injury which ruled him out of last weekend's win over Italy. Kevin McLaughlin filled in last Saturday but drops out of the 22, with Sean O'Brien providing back-row cover.

"Kevin McLaughlin played fantastically well last week but Stephen is a top player," said team manager Paul McNaughton yesterday. "He's a lion. He really ran well in training this week and he's looking big and strong and fit."

Meanwhile, France second-row and former captain Lionel Nallet says the home side must take advantage of Ireland's terrible record in Paris (the 2000 win is the only victory there in 38 years) and backed up coach Marc Lievremont's assertions that Ireland are not an exciting side to watch.

"It is known that they tend to lose on our turf, and the coaches have emphasised that. We must make sure they do not change that," said Nallet.

"They are effective but their game does not make me jump. They are not the best in the world."

Irish Independent

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