French fear Ireland will bounce back

AURELIEN ROUGERIE insists France will pay a heavy penalty if they underestimate Ireland in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash in Paris.

The Irish followed up a dismal World Cup campaign with a below-par showing against Italy in their Six Nations opener last weekend.

They managed to prevail 16-11 at Croke Park but Eddie O’Sullivan’s team are clearly short of confidence.

It was at the Stade de France in the World Cup that Les Bleus notched a convincing 25-3 group-stage win over the Irish, but Rougerie appreciates his team-mates will be hard-pressed to repeat those exploits.

“We have prepared for this match with total seriousness all week,” said the Clermont winger, who is back in the starting line-up after being on the bench for last weekend’s 27-6 triumph over Scotland.

“There is a lot of talent in this Ireland team, in every position, and I wouldn’t like it if they rediscovered their unity against us on Saturday.

“We have to know what to do when faced with Ireland’s cutting edge. And they are going to be more organised than the Scottish. We have to take one match at a time and not underestimate them. That would be a massive error.”

France captain Lionel Nallet fears an Ireland backlash.

“I remain convinced that Ireland are going to bounce back. They have too many quality players,” said Nallet.

France coach Marc Lievremont is clearly confident about his side’s chances. Despite seeing them ease past the Scots on Sunday, he has made six changes to the team and appears more concerned about giving players game time than actually getting a result.

Vincent Clerc, for example, was originally dropped to the bench for Saturday, even though the winger scored two tries and was named man of the match at Murrayfield.

He is now back in the team following an injury to Julien Malzieu.

Julien Bonnaire, one of France’s stars of the World Cup, is also back in the line-up after being benched for the opener. The back-row forward believes the battle at the breakdown could decide the match.

“Above all, we need to improve at the breakdown,” Bonnaire said.

“If we want to accelerate our game, we must have quicker ball. We have to be better in that department.

“We will look to keep the things that worked against the Scots but improve in the areas we struggled in.”

Lievremont was handed a boost yesterday when centre David Marty and scrumhalf Jean-Baptiste Elissalde returned to full training.

Marty quit training yesterday citing a back problem, while Elissalde has been nursing an ankle injury picked up against Scotland. Both should be fit to start on Saturday.

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