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Six Nations: Kidney explains team selection

By Hugh Farrelly

Change, they say, is as good as rest, but, despite both camps being forced to squeeze in four internationals in as many weeks, France and Ireland have resisted the urge to mix it up ahead of Sunday's rescheduled showdown in Paris.

Thus, we have the same Ireland side and one selection change for the French, Julien Bonnaire coming in for Louis Picamoles in the back-row, the other alteration being forced by injury to full-back Maxime Medard, his Toulouse club-mate Clement Poitrenaud slotting in as a direct replacement.



It also reflects that, short a game after the February 11 postponement, both Declan Kidney and Philippe Saint-Andre are banking on their established front-liners growing into the tournament after victories last weekend.



The debate surrounding the Irish selection was whether to reward the decisive contribution of the bench and Kidney agreed that this had given him pause before opting for the status quo.



"The lads came on the last day and made a hugely positive impact," said Kidney. "You weigh that up with what the lads who had started had done, a lot of what you would call unattractive or unseen work breaking down Italy.



"It is a good topic for debate, but I feel it is right to do this, I never see it as just picking the same team," he added. "Each section and each unit takes time to put together, it might look like 'the same team,' but, believe me, a fair bit of time and analysing goes into it."



Two wins in Paris in 60 years is a statistic rivalled only by the one of Ireland never managing a victory over New Zealand and Kidney hinted they are prepared to go at the French from the kick-off and will draw on positive provincial experiences in France this season.



"You take a look at the Heineken (Cup) results this year. Jonny (Sexton) kicked a penalty to get a good draw (for Leinster against Montpellier), Ronan (O'Gara) kicked a drop goal against Castres to get a good win for Munster and Ulster had a very good performance in Clermont. We have to try to use that experience, it's a measure between having the courage to go after it, but the wisdom to know when; do you go after if from the first minute?



"Sometimes the very first ball you get will be the best ball you'll get all match, so you have to have the courage to be open to do that, but you also have to have the wisdom to know 'well, no, maybe we're better off getting a bit of field position'."



So, how do they measure up?



Full-back



Rob Kearney and Wales' Leigh Halfpenny are the form 15s of the championship, while Poitrenaud has been drafted in at short notice. It is not the worst development for Ireland, a side he has lost twice against in five appearances. The Toulouse players attacking qualities are well established, but equalled by his reputation for flakiness, most glaringly with his endgame calamity that allowed Rob Howley to secure the Heineken Cup for Wasps in 2004. Trying to rattle him with a stream of high balls and committed pursuit could be a productive tactic.



Three-quarters



Ireland have plenty of attacking quality, but France have the potential to be devastating, particularly out wide. There is Vincent Clerc's remarkable record of eight tries in nine appearances against the Irish and Julien Malzieu, whose form makes a mockery of his lack of exposure under Marc Lievremont.



It is a challenge to energise the Irish pair of Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble, who carry their own impetus into the contest, as do centres Keith Earls and Gordon D'Arcy. However, Wesley Fofana has been flying in his first championship alongside the rejuvenated Aurelien Rougerie, so, while the Ireland three-quarters arrive packed with potential, subduing the French four remains an intimidating challenge.



Half-backs



Eoin Reddan was pushing hard for the scrum-half slot, but Conor Murray's quality is not in question and, if he gets good ball to work with, the Patrickswell man can dominate Morgan Parra and mix it with the French back-row.



Dimitri Yachvili's injury helps for the French are a more assured outfit with the Biarritz man in the No 9 jersey and Sexton's confident showing against Italy also bodes well. Francois Trinh-Duc has a strong all-round game - particularly his physical running which set up Fofana's try against Scotland - but Leinster dealt with his threat relatively comfortably in the Heineken Cup.



Front-row



The major surprise was Dimitri Szarzewski keeping his place ahead of the excellent William Servat and Saint-Andre acknowledged that the hooker did not have his best game last weekend while, encouragingly for the Irish, noting his confidence may have suffered.



"We kept Dimitri because he needs confidence, even though he missed a few tackles and was lacking in his judgment," said the France coach. "But we have faith in him and his ability."



Opposite him, Rory Best has become a hugely influential figure in this Ireland side and, although there were a couple of collective line-out issues against Italy, the Ulster man has been on a superb run of form and will fancy this one-on-one.



His contribution at scrum-time will be equally significant on a day when Mike Ross' technique and power assumes huge importance. France's scrum was a major weapon against Scotland, but Cian Healy, Best and Ross represent the best scrummaging unit to travel to Paris since the early 1970s.



Second-row



Pretty even. Pascal Pape is having a big tournament in the Bakkies Botha role for France, but Donncha O'Callaghan has been performing strongly for Ireland also. Alongside him, Paul O'Connell has been sensational, while France's great second-row hope Yoann Maestri was comprehensively outplayed by Richie Gray last weekend.



Back-row



Bonnaire's introduction strengthens the French line-out, but they could miss Picamole's power off the back of the scrum.



"Louis was good in defence, and he tidied up well, but he struggled with the attacking side of the game," said Saint-Andre.



"We want to see him running with the ball in his hand. Ireland always play quick line-outs, we had problems here against Scotland and Bonnaire gives us mobility."



Thierry Dusautoir and Imanol Harinordoquy are world-class, but the Irish trio, as they proved at the World Cup, are in that bracket also. This could be the deciding of the contest.



Overall



This France side oozes menace and is backboned by their record against Ireland in Paris and belief in their Grand Slam destiny. As Kidney noted: "You don't get to a World Cup final without being as good as they are, France are a classy side."



For Ireland, the talent and potential are there, they just need to believe it.

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