Pacy Palisson brings Viars' shuddering demolition job of '92 to mind
REMEMBER Sebastien Viars?
The Irish players who had the misfortune of running out in Paris in the spring of 1992 will recall that name with a shuddering clarity.
Viars destroyed the Irish that day, scoring two tries, five conversions and two penalties for an individual tally of 24 (the try was worth four points then) as France gambolled to a 44-12 victory over the hapless Paddies.
It was a reputation-shredding afternoon. Derek McAleese and Paul Hogan made their debuts that day but would never earn another cap, it was the last cap for centre David Curtis -- one of the stars of Ireland's World Cup campaign a few months previously -- and others such as Kenny Murphy, Fergus Aherne, Brian Rigney and Mick Fitzgibbon did not feature in the tournament again.
Viars was sensational against Ireland and, 18 years on, his name sprang to mind again when France coach Marc Lievremont announced his team to take on Declan Kidney's side at the Stade de France in this year's corresponding fixture.
For there are definite similarities with Alexis Palisson -- one of two injury-enforced changes to the France team which comfortably accounted for Scotland in their opener last Sunday.
Like Viars, Palisson lines out on the left wing against Ireland, plays full-back and winger for Brive, was first capped as a 20-year-old and is known for his pace and kicking ability -- whether out of hand or off the ground.
An ominous correlation and, equally disconcerting for Irish rugby stattos, is the other change to the side which sees Vincent Clerc come onto the right wing with his penchant for punishing green jerseys (seven tries in five matches against the Irish).
While Ireland coach Kidney painstakingly builds up the pool of national talent through the four provinces (who don't always suit his selective needs), France have a seemingly endless production line of quality.
Lievremont loses the services of his first-choice wingers Aurelien Rougerie and Benjamin Clerc and, arguably, strengthens his back three with Vincent Clerc and Palisson. Replacement prop Luc Ducalcon is ruled out with injury and the French coach calls on vastly experienced scrummaging powerhouse Sylvain Marconnet to sit on the bench.
It's daunting stuff for the Grand Slam champions, who are attempting to win in Paris for only the second time since 1972.
"Playing Vincent Clerc from the start shouldn't cause a debate but there was a lot of discussion on who to play on the left wing," said Lievremont.
"We decided to go with the versatility and left foot of Alexis Palisson. We know the qualities of Julien Malzieu but it seemed interesting to us to have the presence of Alexis alongside Clement Poitrenaud. We went for Palisson because he often plays at full-back with his Brive club and is a fine left-footed field kicker."
The extent to which France have targeted this match is evidenced by Lievremont's decision to abandon the 'tinker-bell' selection policy for which he has become infamous and go for continuity. Lievremont went through 56 players during his first year in charge but for this one, injured wingers aside, he has decided to leave well enough alone.
"For once we decided not to change a winning team with the exception, of course, of our two injured wings," he said.
"We only have a short week between the two games and we could have brought fresh players (in) but we decided to bank on continuity.
"You don't change a winning team," he added (a statement which should have been accompanied by the sound of a penny dropping).
It is a side with no obvious weaknesses, save, possibly, for a relatively callow half-back pairing of Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra, which can be got at. Ireland performed very well at scrum time in their opening win over Italy but the French look to be a level up again, while their back row has justifiable claims on the 'best in the world' title.
Furthermore, a bench containing quality such as Szarzewski, Marconnet, Bonnaire, Marty, Michalak and Malzieu gives them definite Plan B potential.
When Viars and his team-mates ran amok all those years ago, Ireland were a team short on quality and even shorter on confidence. Now, they go into Saturday's clash protecting a 12-game unbeaten run with silverware to show for it.
However, that does not change the need to observe the rules governing a game against France in Paris... do not let the French get off to a big start; try and turn the crowd against their own team; secure your set-pieces; tackle everything in blue and, with a nod to '92, watch out for the young fellah on the left wing with the gas and the big boot.
France (v Ireland) -- C Poitrenaud; V Clerc,M Bastareaud, Y Jauzion, A Palisson; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra; T Domingo, W Servat, N Mas; L Nallet, P Pape; T Dusautoir (capt), F Ouedraogo, I Harinordoquy.Reps: D Szarzewski, S Marconnet, J Pierre, J Bonnaire, F Michalak, D Marty, J Malzieu.