Kiss heaps praise on French revolution

IRELAND defence coach Les Kiss has applauded the manner in which France returned to winning ways in last weekend’s Six Nations opener after their traumatic 43-points defeat to Australia in November.

Marc Lievremont’s side scored four tries against Scotland at the Stade de France with a performance that has persuaded the coach to minimise the changes for Sunday’s encounter at the Aviva Stadium.

Damien Traille moves from full-back to his habitual home of inside centre in place of the injured Maxime Mermoz, Clement Poitrenaud assumes the 15 jersey and Yannick Jauzion has been upgraded to bench duty.

Hardly the type of tweaks to dilute their arsenal.

“The French one is one of the toughies,” admitted Kiss. “That is how they finished the (Scotland) match. Mermoz went off with his injury and Traille came into 12 so it was good to see half a game and see how they operate under that combination.

“You have to give them credit. They got smashed by seven or eight tries in the autumn and they have shifted their game a bit, got back to some of their values and played very well.

“They can launch off some pretty good set-piece(s) so it will be a good challenge.”

France and Ireland may come to the table with equal points after the opening rounds but the atmosphere surrounding both camps is very different given the respective performances in Rome and Paris.

That said, there were nuggets of hope to be mined from Scotland’s performance, not least the three tries from a side not noted for its finishing. Add that to the Australian game and France have conceded 10 in their last two outings.

How significant that proves to be is a moot point as six of the seven scored by the Wallabies came in an oddball second-half four months ago and in a game where France actually led 16-13 at one point.

“I don’t think you can ignore it,” said Kiss of that tie. “There are some areas of concern for them, without a doubt, in terms of their defence but you can’t say it defines them as a team on the downtrend, that is for sure.

“In that game they dominated the set piece and got done by seven or eight tries to one or whatever it was. It was something of an anomaly and what we are seeing from them last week is probably more true to form.”

What’s represents Ireland’s true form remains to be seen given their tournament opener was pockmarked by a glut of individual errors that almost allowed the Azzurri to claim a first Six Nations victory in the head-to-head.

Scotland conceded seven — and arguably 14 — points against France last Saturday through their own errors and Ireland have seen time and again how little opportunity Les Bleus require to put a game to bed.

Still, as Rory Best said yesterday, better individual errors than a general system breakdown but there is always the decision when facing France whether to face them with an expansive game or a more conservative approach.

“The French showed at the weekend that, setpiece-wise, they have a very strong scrum and lineout,” said Best, “so that is something, as a pack of forwards that we will be looking to counter and try and stamp our own game on them.

“There is a lot to be said for playing for territory but you have to make sure that your kick-chase is very good.

“They named their team and their back three is very dangerous. If you give them time and space they will punish you. “We’ll obviously be giving the French the respect they deserve but we will also look at ourselves and what is the best way to win this game.”

Whatever the approach, Best — likely to be Ulster’s only player in the first XV once again — will again be central to Ireland’s hopes of establishing the type of solid platform on which the half-backs can dictate matters.

Though the lineout worked well in Rome, it was criticised for the conservatism shown in throwing to the front and it will be interesting to see how Ireland attempt to negate the likes of Imanol Harinordoquy and Julien Bonnaire.

The same will apply at the scrum, an area in which France claimed a penalty try against The Scots just hours after Ireland’s well-publicised differences of opinion with Romain Poite at the Stadio Flaminio.

Best decided against wading into that particular argument yesterday but talked positively about the work done under Greg Feek’s expert eye and the fact that they weren’t exactly shoved around in the Italian capital.

“It’s something we are working very hard on. We are under no illusions. Last weekend, the Italian scrum was a very good scrum. This French scrum showed against a very good Scottish scrum how dangerous they can be.

“We know it is another big challenge for us. That is why you play these high intensity games because you want to be challenged against the best and there is no doubt that the French scrum is one of the best.”

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