Johnny Sexton says Ireland will be taking a step in the dark when they visit the City of Lights this weekend.
Joe Schmidt’s men kick-start their Six Nations campaign with an away trip to France, where Jacques Brunel is in charge for the first time.
The former Italy coach replaced Toulouse legend Guy Noves who was sacked last month after Les Bleus failed to win any of their November internationals, a run that included defeat to the South African side hammered by Ireland and a home draw with Japan.
France have not finished in the top two of the Six Nations since 2011, and Brunel has been given very little time to get things back in shape ahead of Saturday’s opener in the Stade de France.
To most, that would seem to set up an away win banker, but Sexton has taken another view of the situation, and warns that Ireland must do extra homework if they are to kickstart the campaign with victory.
“It’s a little bit of going into the unknown for us,” he said. “Whilst a lot of the players we are going to be playing against are similar, we’re not exactly sure how they’re going to play.
"So we really have to be ready to cover all bases and know their individual players really, really well because again we don’t know what sort of plays they’re going to play because of their new coaches so we’ve got to do more analysis on their players and know them inside out.”
Ireland won in Paris in 2015 but the last win before that was way back in 2000, with the previous win coming in 1972.
Brunel believes his new-look side can be competitive on Saturday, and Sexton – who spent two years in Paris playing for Racing 92, is more than aware of the threat they can be on home soil.
“They’re a very proud nation. They don’t like to lose at home. They don’t like to lose anywhere, but especially at home,” he told irishrugby.ie.
“You go through the games in the Six Nations over the past few years, they’ve all been really, really close games and I think it’s going to be no different this week.
“It’s been touch and go in a lot of those games and come down to small moments. We know it’s a very physical game over there. It’s very fast at times and it’ll be a higher intensity than anything we’ve been exposed to this season. We’ve got to be ready for that mentally and physically.”
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