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Schmidt's men can achieve what we couldn't and win in Paris, insist top Irish trio

By Michael Sadlier

They all share nothing but bad memories of playing in Paris for Ireland, but this Ulster trio of former internationals reckon that Joe Schmidt's side can do the business on Saturday.

However, former skipper Philip Matthews, along with Maurice Field and Denis McBride, all urge caution regarding the notion that Ireland - widely tipped to take the title this year - will be able to easily see off a Les Bleus side riven by pre-tournament turmoil with the recent sacking of coach Guy Noves.

"I think they will win," said 38-times-capped Matthews.

"And I think that Paris doesn't hold the same fear anymore as, after all, these guys have played in France in the Champions Cup and won.

"But it is still not an easy place to go to, and if they allow themselves to start reckoning they are better than the French team and just need to play their own game, well, I don't think that works.

"Often there's nothing worse than a side who everyone has written off," he said of France's difficulties.

"Ireland can't let that distract them but it's really difficult not to let that happen.

"What they have to do is bring a sense of 'we're going to own this place' because if you succumb to trying to adapt to the environment and just withstand the challenge you're not going to win.

"When England have gone there and won that's what they have done," said the former back-rower, who played his last game for Ireland in 1992.

"I think Ireland know what's required.

"But they've got to sustain it for the 80 minutes because if France in any way get their tails up you can lose your grip very quickly," he added.

"I would expect them to win," agreed former Ulster and Ireland centre Maurice Field.

"French rugby looks in a bit of disarray at the moment with Guy Noves being sacked before Christmas and Jacques Brunel just coming in.

"You would expect that Ireland's continuity from the Autumn series, and the way Joe Schmidt has them playing, will ensure they win but, then again, the French are completely unpredictable.

"But if Ireland play the way Joe Schmidt wants them to play, and stick to their structures, then they should overcome them," said the 17-times capped Field, who will be watching the game live at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Former Ulster and Ireland flanker Denis McBride agreed while, again, sounding that note of caution.

"I think they (Ireland) can win, and they have good consistency and seem to be in a good place, while France look a bit disrupted with the change of coach.

"But then France are France and you never know what you're going to get," said McBride, who played 32 times for Ireland.

"They're going to Paris with the expectation that they should win, but Paris is a very difficult place to play and I would always have an air of caution too that Ireland tend not to play well when they have the favourites tag on them.

"But still, they are much more professional now and should have the right mentality," added McBride.

Matthews reckons that the team's leaders - skipper Rory Best, Peter O'Mahony and Jonathan Sexton - must ensure that the right mindset is maintained at all times and that the message has to be delivered that having had a good autumn series and an eye-catching world ranking means nothing now.

"That's all the logical stuff and that just seduces you," he said, while also throwing in that there is absolutely no guarantee of making it all the way to Twickenham for the final weekend with the title on the line.

"If they think that way, they'll lose. This (Paris) is going to be a war up front but they have to win that by imposing themselves physically and dominating.

"Getting parity means you might contain their physicality, and if that's the way it is Ireland will not have any control of the game."

Matthews added: "I can remember moments in Paris and looking around and knowing that we're mentally gone and it was just every man for himself, so the role of the captain and leaders is to make sure that doesn't happen."

Field reckons that Iain Henderson and Best will deliver huge games, while Jacob Stockdale, if selected, can also have a notable Six Nations debut.

"Hendy will pick his game up, and if Rory is on his game then the rest will follow that.

"That's the platform from where Ireland will launch Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls."

Belfast Telegraph

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