French look to pile on problems for embattled Irish

France’s new regime under Marc Lievremont will look to capitalise on the impressive defeat of Scotland last weekend when they take on Ireland in the Six Nations at the Stade de France here on Saturday.

The Irish enter the match bereft of confidence having struggled to beat Italy 16-11 in Dublin and look ripe for an eighth successive defeat at the hands of the French.

However, embattled Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan insists he is not feeling the pressure and is intent on focussing on the match against an opponent that in his seven-year tenure he has failed to beat.

“I know there’s talk going on outside the camp about other things, but I can’t buy into that,” said O’Sullivan, who has landed three Triple Crowns.

“It’s not going to make me do a better job. In fact it would detract from my job. We got over the hurdle against Italy. It was ugly but we still got over it.

“Paris is a greater hurdle and it’s a big ask. I deal with the pressure by staying busy and getting on with the work.

“There is only time for the Six Nations. Putting energy into thinking about what is being said is wasted. You can’t control what people write or say,” added the 49-year-old.

O’Sullivan has remained defiant ever since the team’s first round exit at the World Cup and has shrugged off growing criticism which was illustrated by an internet petition boasting 6,000 signatures calling for his head.

However, he has made changes to his starting line-up for Saturday, drafting in Leinster duo Jamie Heaslip and Bernard Jackman into the pack.

Heaslip comes in at number eight for only his fifth cap with Denis Leamy switching to blindside flanker while hooker Jackman wins his sixth cap and replaces Rory Best, who drops to the bench.

Ulster’s Andrew Trimble, who has been playing in the centre for Ulster this term, is at inside centre with Leinster youngster Rob Kearney filling the vacancy on the left wing to earn his third cap.

“Ball-carrying has been the highlight of their game for Leinster this season,” said O’Sullivan of the Leinster trio.

“To have some extra ball carriers will be useful and Bernard and Jamie will fit in fine and offer some dynamism around the field that will help us in Paris.” On the evidence of a new-look France’s 27-6 thrashing of Scotland in their opening match last weekend, Ireland could be in for a torrid time on Saturday.

Lievremont has made six changes to the line-up which started the game at Murrayfield.

“There are a lot of changes, but that is just reward for the way the replacements did their job both before and during the game against Scotland,” said the 39-year-old former flanker.

Four of the changes are in the pack with Stade Francais hooker Dimitri Szarzewski taking over from William Servat, Perpignan prop Nicolas Mas coming in for Julien Brugnaut, Albi lock Arnaud Mela replacing Loic Jacquet and Julien Bonnaire back in at No.8 after Elvis Vermeulen was ruled out with a broken rib.

In the backs, Stade Francais flyhalf David Skrela returns in place of newcomer Francois Trinh-Duc.

Star winger Vincent Clerc, who was initially named on the bench after the experienced Aurelien Rougerie was called up, found his name back in the starting XV after Clermont winger Julien Malzieu pulled out injured.

Sapa-AFP –

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