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Best is on course for Chabal collision

By Gavin Mairs

The prospect of seeing Sebastien Chabal locking horns with Ulster's Neil Best will be worth the admission money alone tonight.

Best, who would have provided a much needed physical boost to the Irish pack, remains on the Ireland bench. But with Chabal starting somewhat out-of-position in the back row, should Best as expected be sprung from the bench, the two will finally go head-to-head.

It could make for a bone-crunching collision. Best's tough-tackling style was a highlight on Ireland's 2006 summer tour to New Zealand and Australia and last season's autumn internationals, and his physical approach, combined with his long hair drew comparisons with Chabal.

But while Best has struggled to make an impact in the World Cup with only brief cameos from the bench, Chabal has become a sporting icon in France at a time when their team came under fire for their shock defeat to Argentina.

His long hair and beard, coupled with his barn-storming approach have made him a cult hero with Les Bleus, and his irresistible form has seen French coach Bernard Laporte forced to accommodate him in the second row, a move made easy by the injury to Fabien Pelous.

Chabal like Best, has an honest and down-to-earth approach to the media, and he finds the spotlight hard to comprehend.

"I am a rugby player and I want people to speak about the team and our performances. That is what is important," he said.

"The media attention is okay as long as we don't talk about it too much and that it isn't at the centre of everything. I am the same person today that I was one year, two years or five years ago. I haven't changed. I continue to say what I think and continue to work hard."

France coach Bernard Laporte has stuck largely with the team that thrashed the Namibians, although he has brought back key players such as Raphael Ibanez, Serge Betsen and Jerome Thion. The absence of star centre Yannick Jauzion is baffling but Laporte says it is because of "personal and physical problems."

Much will rely on Frederic Michalak's ability to control the game. He fell apart against England in the semi-finals four years ago and Ireland will look to pressurise him. Ireland will also aim to reopen the scars of the hosts nervy display in their 17-12 defeat to Argentina at the same stadium two weeks ago.

"We have a lot of pressure on us," admitted Chabal. "We have everything to lose but everything to win."

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