Peter O’Mahony returns in anticipation of physical French challenge
Ian Madigan replaces Paddy Jackson in matchday squad ahead of Six Nations decider in Paris
Joe Schmidt has done what was expected when it comes to selection but France have reinforced their intent to crush Ireland with six forwards named on Philippe Saint-Andre’s bench.
“It has afforded them the luxury of having some very big men coming off the bench,” said Joe Schmidt. “(Sebastien) Vahaamahina and (Alexandre) Flanquart are very big strong men.
“I think that will be a fairly tough part of the battle for us. Lauret is another very combative man and a pretty exciting athlete, very quick too.
“He provides a balance for Alexandre Lapandry who has a massive work rate. I’ve coaching Alex [at Clermont Auvgerne] and his tackle numbers get huge in a game. If he does get used up (Wenceslas) Lauret can come on for him.”
Really, it’s a fear that two from numbers 10 through 15 won’t finish Saturday evening’s game.
“We just started to creak a little in England when we got a couple of niggles and ended up not having as broad a coverage as we would have liked.
“If Johnny (Sexton) was unavailable we probably would’ve started with Paddy. Ian’s ability to cover midfield, fullback and the 10 spot, it’s purely that.”
There’s no fear of a lack of belief in the Irish squad that a win in Paris is achievable but, ominously, Les Bleus have an inability to contemplate defeat. 2000 remains an anomaly and, when examined in detail, the French lost 27-25 because of freak hat-trick from Brian O’Driscoll.
Rather, it is O’Driscoll’s only head-to-head at Test level with Mathieu Bastareaud, the 33-10 defeat at Stade de France in 2010, which lingers in the mind. That day Bastareaud fended off O’Driscoll to create Clement Poitrenaud’s try that made it 24-3.
In his last game, O’Driscoll’s final opposite number is arguably the only outside centre to have the edge in their international rivalry.
“That is the type of talent they have. There is no French player who we can say we can stop that threat without having to put a guy either side of him. The foot work and acceleration of (Brice) Dulin from fullback, (Maximie) Medard, I think (Yoann) Huget is world class in every facet of the game.
“Bastareaud? I’m not sure he ever gets taken in the first tackle and Gael Fickou; you only have to see the impact he makes off the bench, stealing that game from England in the first round.
“(Remi) Tales was the initial selection at 10 until he got injured. It makes for a really intriguing but whatever happens incredibly physical battle.”
The Ireland changes mean the entire bench, besides Henderson, is from Leinster, while O’Mahony’s return increases Munster’s representation to three.
In the 2009 Grand Slam, the 22-man squad had 12 Munster players, five Leinster, three Ulster and one exile in Geordan Murphy. This time around the spread is three, 15, four and Sexton.
FRANCE: B Dulin; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, G Fickou, M Medard; R Tales, M Machenaud; T Domingo, D Szarzewski, N Mas, P Pape (capt), Y Maestri, L Picamoles, A Lapandry, D Chouly.
Replacements: G Guirado, V Debaty, R Slimani, A Flanquart, S Vahaamahina, W Lauret, JM Doussain, M Mermoz
IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); A Trimble (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), D Kearney (Leinster); J Sexton (Racing Metro 92), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); P O’Connell (Munster, capt), D Toner (Leinster); P O’Mahony (Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), J McGrath (Leinster), M Moore (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Murphy (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), I Madigan (Leinster), F McFadden (Leinster).