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RBS 6 Nations: Wounded pride makes France more deadly

By Niall Crozier

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has a fair idea of what to expect tomorrow evening.

Having worked as Vern Cotter's assistant at ASM Clermont Auvergne, he understands the French attitude to a big match occasion. Tomorrow is one such, with his counterpart Philippe Saint-André and France's players under fire as a result of below-par performances.

Their pride has been wounded by some stinging criticism and that, coupled with the fact that they are playing at home, makes them very dangerous opponents.

Explaining why French sides tend to be so much more formidable on their own turf, Schmidt said: "I suppose it's a bit Gallic, it's a bit tribal – this is our patch, this is what we defend – and they take immense pride in that.

"Often when a (French) player is fatigued, they'll mentally just switch off a little bit. But it's a lot less likely to happen when you're on your home patch because you'll dig a little deeper to stay focussed and make sure that you do what's required of you."

Expanding on the subject he said: "And even the mentality of preparation during the week - there's more of an edge, there's more of, I guess, a necessity to be as ready you can be because you just can't afford to lose at home.

"They're the ones that are not allowed to happen and, for us, we'd anticipate that that's going to be the French mentality regardless – particularly because I think a lot of people have overlooked the fact that they have a very outside chance to win it.

"I think with the points differential that England have on them, in beating us they would still not topple England, but that's assuming England win in Italy. But a top two finish in the Six Nations would, I think, be a pretty good result because it's incredibly competitive.

"That means they would finish ahead of some very good teams and I've no doubt that's something that would at least keep the critics at bay.

"They have been outspoken this week and I think maybe a little bit of that, if you look, is less justifiable than you would imagine because they have won three out of four games and international rugby is results driven."

Saint-André has named a team that screams physicality, his obvious intention being to out-muscle Ireland, a point underlined by his inclusion of six heavyweight forwards in the eight replacements.

"It's not the first time in the Six Nations that they've done it," Schmidt said. "With (Jean-Marc) Doussain, he covers nine and 10 so that gives them a little bit of flexibility where most teams obviously have to use two players in those positions.

"(Maxime) Mermoz on the bench maybe doesn't cover their back three as well as they might have liked. We probably thought (Hugo) Bonneval might have beden there, so it has afforded them the luxury of having some very big men coming off the bench.

"(Sebastien) Vahaamahina and (Alexandre) Flanquart are very big, strong men and I think that will be a fairly tough part of the battle for us. (Wenceslas) Lauret is another very combative man and a pretty exciting athlete; he's very, very powerful – but quick – and that may be a balance for Alex Lapandry who has got a massive work-rate.

"Obviously I've had a bit of time coaching Alex and his tackle numbers get huge in a game. And his ability to cover the field is fantastic so if he does get a bit used up I suppose they've got Lauret to come on for him. That may be part of their thinking."

With Montpellier bruiser Nicholas Mas – 5ft 11ins and 17st of pure power – the cornerstone of the French pack, his scrum-time battle with Cian Healy will be crucial.

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