Veteran pair look to restore French pride

Olivier Magne and Raphael Ibanez are aiming to provide the spark for France in tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations Championship clash with Ireland.

The French began as championship favourites following their impressive autumn campaign – which included wins over Australia and South Africa – but they failed to live up to expectations on Sunday when their Grand Slam hopes went up in smoke in a 20-16 defeat to Scotland.

Coach Bernard Laporte has wielded the axe, making five major changes to his starting XV, with flanker Magne and hooker Ibanez, both 32, returning to the fold.

Ibanez has 74 caps but has not played a Six Nations game since 2003.

The Sale hooker retired from international rugby after the last World Cup before deciding to come back last year, playing in the victory over Tonga in November.

Magne, meanwhile, has 83 caps but has not played in the Six Nations since France’s Grand Slam campaign two years ago.

The London Irish flanker has struggled with a foot injury over the past 12 months but took part during the summer tour of Australia and South Africa.

Ibanez is relishing the prospect of playing at the Stade de France again on Saturday after his two-year absence from the national stadium.

“I am really happy to wear that shirt again,” he said.

“Both Olivier and myself will concentrate on our role and try to bring our experience to rediscover a certain collective energy.

“We are not here to give any lessons but we know we missed out on our match with Scotland and that the expectations will be very high on Saturday.”

Ibanez has been playing with Guinness Premiership champions Wasps since August 2005 and claims his owes his international return to them.

“The level is very high there and it ended up being very beneficial to me,” said Ibanez.

“I told my coaches about my cap and I hope they will watch me on Saturday and be proud of me.

“I owe them a lot. They helped me rediscover the punch and pace I had lost.”

Magne’s season has been spoilt somewhat by his foot injury and he has had a relatively short time in which to impress since returning to action with London Irish last December.

But he is adamant he can help France bounce back from their latest setback.

“I am not asking myself too many questions, all I want is give my best,” he said.

“I think both myself and Raphael can bring some sort of serenity to the team, we must not collapse.

“It’s annoying to have lost to Scotland but we must forget about it and consider it just as an accident.

“Against the Irish, motivation and enthusiasm will be vital.”

Remy Martin and Dimitri Szarzewski are those to make way for Ibanez and Magne, while the other players to come into the line-up are Olivier Milloud, David Marty and Aurelien Rougerie.

Sylvain Marconnet, Ludovic Valbon and Nicolas Brusque have also been left out, although scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and fly-half Frederic Michalak have keep their places despite their disappointing performances last weekend.

Laporte did not mince his words after the loss, but he is trying to remain positive and insists next year’s World Cup remains the priority.

“Winning the Grand Slam does not guarantee us winning the World Cup, too,” he added.

“In 2002 we managed to win the Grand Slam, not the English, but they won the World Cup a year later.

“What happened at Murrayfield has not broken anything within the team in terms of mentality and objectives.

“I’d rather lose 10 matches in 2006 and be crowned world champions in 2007.”

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