Schmidt set to make changes for France; McCarthy believes in Ireland goal power

Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Rory McIlroy reacts to a putt on the 18th green during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy reacts to a putt on the 18th green during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

After a week break, another defining weekend of Six Nations action awaits as Ireland welcome France to Dublin on Sunday (kick-off 3pm, follow it live on The Irish Times blog). With Wales seemingly hurtling towards setting up a Grand Slam completion against Ireland next week, Joe Schmidt will look to make some changes to his Ireland team which will be announced around lunchtime today. Gerry Thornley reports this morning that Seán O’Brien looks set to be ommitted from the side with Josh van der Flier coming in as his replacement. It’s all been far from rosy for France of late but, as Gavin Cummiskey writes, they do have the potential to kick on in the near future as Bernard Laporte lays the structural for success. A brilliant French side won the Under-20s World Cup last summer. Depressingly for Irish supporters, Trevor Brennan’s giant son Daniel was part of the group, tag-teaming at tighthead prop with Demba Bamba, who starts at the Aviva Stadium this weekend. And, speaking of Bamba, Tadhg Furlong spoke yesterday about how he is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the young “physical specimen”. However, Liam Toland does not believe Les Bleus have the tactics in place to beat Ireland this Sunday. Writing in his column this morning he says that ‘Le Grand Plan’ is no substitute for tactical detail – something Schmidt holds in abundance over his French counterparts.

On to football and Mick McCarthy yesterday announced his first squad of his second spell as Ireland manager. McCarthy will lead Ireland into this month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia with a mix of youth and experience but also a cry for goals. Ireland found the net just four times in the whole calendar year of 2018 but McCarthy believes his team do have the firepower to score. “David McGoldrick’s been scoring goals [11 IN 34], Callum [O’DOWDA]has been in the goals [five since mid-December], Ronan Curtis has scored [11 since joining Portsmouth last summer],” the Ireland manager said. In the Europa League, Chelsea eased to a first leg victory over Dinamo Kiev last night with Callum Hudson-Odoi wrapping up the win that should see them progress to the quarter-finals. However, Arsenal will have their work cut out after falling to a 3-1 defeat at Rennes earlier in the evening. After two dramatic nights in the Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday the fallout continues. Last night the Spanish media reported that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez threatened to sack Sergio Ramos after a fierce argument in the dressing room following their 4-1 defeat to Ajax which saw the champions of the last three years crash out. The following night Manchester United wrote another chapter into the annals of European comebacks with a 3-1 victory in Paris which saw them advance past PSG to the quarter-finals and further strengthened Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position in getting the manager’s job full time. As Barney Ronay writes, people can call it luck but sometimes luck is just another word for managing the details.

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