Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

O'Sullivan's in a fix for France clash

Ireland will go into their biggest game in four years tonight in probably the worst shape they have found themselves during that period.

Despite that Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan remains confident the problems that have beset his side both during the build-up to the World Cup and during their opening two games are fixable.

A defeat against France in the Stade de France tonight (kick-off 8pm BST) without a bonus point would leave Ireland on the verge of elimination from the tournament and that would represent a humiliating climax given the high expectations the team had arrived with in France.

The selection of rookie scrum-half Eoin Reddan in place of veteran Peter Stringer is a high-risk move by O'Sullivan in attempting to drag his team out of the mire.

And against much more recognisable opposition, O'Sullivan believes they will finally come good just when the stakes couldn't be higher.

"The high risk game we played in the autumn and Six Nations we tried to replicate here," said O'Sullivan.

"We were shy of match practice and made lots of errors. That didn't help our confidence, but when you step back from it you realise it's very fixable.

"We knew we had to score points against the smaller sides and that created its own pressure, which forced more mistakes and the whole thing became a vicious circle.

"It is different now because we know France, we play them every year and have been to the Stade de France. We know them and they know us. In some ways that will settle the mind.

"We didn't know much about Namibia and Georgia. We know what we are facing against France so they're much easier to prepare for."

O'Sullivan and Ireland will also be buoyed by the fact that France have already shown a vulnerable under-belly. The 17-12 defeat to Argentina will still be raw for Les Bleus. If Ireland can start well and build pressure on the hosts, it is possible the home crowd will get restless which could work in Ireland's advantage.

"Both ourselves and France are under pressure, probably for different reasons," added O'Sullivan.

" We haven't played well up to now. We need to perform to the standards we've set ourselves.

"The pressure is on us to deliver in what is a pivotal game in the pool.

"I suppose France are under a different kind of pressure in that a loss would mean the end of the World Cup for them, which, for them, going in as the favourites, would be pretty catastrophic."

France: Poitrenaud; Clerc, Marty, Traille, Heymans; Michalak, Elissalde; Milloud, Ibanez, De Villiers, Chabal, Thion, Betsen, Dusautoir, Bonnaire.

Replacements: Szarzewski, Poux, Nallet, Nyanga, Beauxis, Jauzion, Rougerie.

Ireland: Dempsey; Horgan, O'Driscoll, capt, D'Arcy, Trimble; O'Gara, Reddan; Horan, Flannery, Hayes, O'Callaghan, O'Connell, Easterby, D Wallace, Leamy.

Replacements: Sheahan, S Best, O'Kelly, N Best, Boss, P Wallace, Duffy.