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Ireland face acid French test in Dublin

France’s full back Clement Poitrenaud (centre) runs with a ball during a training session. (AFP)

By Reuters
Though they both began the Six Nations championship with a win, Ireland and France go into Sunday’s Dublin clash (1500 GMT) in very different moods and with more than just another two championship points at stake.
France shook off the painful memories of their November thrashing by Australia by turning on the style to beat Scotland 34-21 in their Paris opener and hand out a timely warning that they are not going to give up their title easily.
In contrast, Ireland needed a last-gasp drop goal by Ronan O’Gara to avoid a first defeat by Italy as they scraped home 13-11 in Rome.
Italy are likely to rue that missed opportunity for a long time as the chances of them derailing England at Twickenham on Saturday (1430) look slim.
England got off to an impressive start with their 26-19 win in Cardiff and should chalk up a second win on Saturday to set up a potential championship decider against France on February 26.
Wales travel to Edinburgh on Saturday (1700) hoping to avoid a ninth game without a win but will find it tough going against a Scottish side buoyed up by their efforts in Paris.
It is in Dublin though that the big questions will be answered, at least on Ireland’s side.
The talking point through their November internationals and going into this competition was whether there was another year in the bulk of the team that had brought so much glory in the Heineken Cup and Six Nations in recent years.
If not, had coach Declan Kidney got enough youngsters in and around the squad to enable them to maintain their freshness and form for the World Cup in September and October?
When Munster failed to make the knockout phase of the Heineken Cup for the first time in 13 years the alarm bells rang a little louder and they went up another decibel with the error-strewn display in Rome.
Kidney has given the bulk of the team another chance, though he has recalled fit-again number eight Jamie Heaslip.
Jonathan Sexton retains the flyhalf jersey despite O’Gara’s late heroics while Gordon D’Arcy also keeps his midfield place despite a poor display.
“We played badly. Not a single Irish player is exempt from criticism after an error-riddled display,” former Ireland flyhalf and now analyst Tony Ward said this week.
Brian O’Driscoll was also off colour but still managed a try and now needs one more to match the 78-year-old record of 24 championship tries set by Scotland’s Ian Smith.
France have also made one change as Clement Poitrenaud comes in at fullback after centre Maxime Mermoz was injured. Damien Traille moves from fullback to centre.
Coach Marc Lievremont, finally seeming to have abandoned his perpetual tinkering, was pleased with his side’s intensity in attack as they ruthlessly took advantage of turnover ball but must address the drops in concentration that let the Scots score three tries.
“I’m very happy with the performance of the backs. It was far from the perfect match but I like the solidarity shown during the game,” he said.
England name their team on Thursday but there are unlikely to be many changes after an encouraging opening display when Chris Ashton added two more tries to his tally to cap a solid all-round team display at the Millennium Stadium.
Scotland extended coach Andy Robinson’s contract until 2015 on Wednesday and the former England coach seems to be getting the best out of his very limited resources.
He has named an unchanged team as he seeks to improve on a record of one win in eight games against Wales.
Welsh coach Warren Gatland has brought in James Hook to start at flyhalf, a decision made easier by a minor knock suffered by Stephen Jones, and Wales need to start stringing together some consistent phases if they are to end their winless streak.