France lock Lionel Nallet has warned Les Bleus to be on their guard against Ireland this weekend – but has not been overly gushing in his analysis of Declan Kidney’s Grand Slam champions.
Marc Lievremont’s team started their RBS 6 Nations campaign with a comfortable 18-9 win over Scotland at Murrayfield last Sunday but can expect a sterner test of their title credentials when the Irish visit the Stade de France on Saturday.
Nallet knows the French must now put their opening victory behind them and focus on an Ireland team he considers “effective” – but nothing to get too excited about.
“It will be a big fight to deliver face as we face stronger opponents than the Scots, especially up front,” he told L’Equipe.
“This will be an interesting team.
“What’s certain is that we performed well last weekend, particularly in the scrum. But now we must forget Scotland.
“They (Ireland) are a European reference since they last won the tournament.
“But we’re here, too. We are also a reference. I do not see them as the best in the world.
“They are effective but their game does not make me jump. We have other ambitions at this level.”
Should Ireland prevail against the Six Nations favourites at the Stade de France, it will be only their third successful visit to the French capital since 1952.
Their long quest for success has not been helped by the previous two outings when they all but handed France victories, gifting them near-unassailable leads before staging courageous yet futile fightbacks.
“It will be up to us mentally not to fall into their trap and make mistakes,” added 33-year-old Castres star Nallet.
“It is known and the coaches have insisted that they tend to lose on our turf. We must find solutions so that they do not (change that).”
Lievremont has made just two enforced changes to the team that beat Scotland for the visit of the Irish.
Vincent Clerc and Alexis Palisson come in for wings Aurelien Rougerie and Benjamin Fall, who were on Tuesday both forced to withdraw from the match with injuries.
Brive’s Palisson has been preferred to Clermont wing Julien Malzieu while Jean-Baptiste Poux, who was also drafted in to replace Luc Ducalcon, starts from the bench with Sylvain Marconnet moving to the stands.
Controversial centre Mathieu Bastareaud has kept his place in the starting line-up after he made an impressive comeback against the Scots.
Making his first Test start since disgracing himself by falsely claiming he had been assaulted during his country’s tour of New Zealand last summer, the 21-year-old responded with his first two international tries.
There is already plenty at stake on Saturday without mentioning last year’s football World Cup qualification play-off between the nations, when Thierry Henry’s infamous handball sent the French through at the Republic of Ireland’s expense.
Munster wing Keith Earls yesterday claimed victory in Paris would be “all the sweeter” given last November’s events and it would be “payback” if the Irish won by cheating this weekend.
Nallet took Earls’ comments with a pinch of salt, claiming the Six Nations champions would not need any extra geeing up for the occasion.
He said on www.sports.fr: “The episode is forgotten and they already have enough motivation.
“I was glad that France qualified. Referees make mistakes. This is sport. The only thing that matters is that France qualified for the World Cup.”