|Clerc, right, is no stranger to the Ireland team, scoring a hat-trick in their last home clash [AFP]|
France coach Marc Lievremont has named Vincent Clerc and Alexis Palisson on the wings in the only changes for their Six Nations match against Grand Slam champions Ireland at the Stade de France this weekend.
Clerc and Palisson will replace Aurelien Rougerie and Benjamin Fall who were ruled out through injuries suffered during France’s 18-9 win in their opening game of the championship against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday.
The selection of Clerc, who was on the bench at Murrayfield, and Palisson, recalled to the squad on Tuesday, are the only two changes from the side that beat Scotland.
Clerc will relish renewing acquaintances with a side he has punished frequently in the past.
The Toulouse wing has proved a thorn in Ireland’s side all too often over the years, scoring seven tries in just five appearances and a hat-trick the last time the sides met at the Stade de France.
“For once we decided not to change a winning team with the exception, of course, of our two injured wings,” coach Marc Lievremont, who tested 56 players during the first year of his tenure, said.
“The pack gave us great satisfaction, the front five were extremely good.”
“We only have a short week between the two games because we played Scotland on Sunday and we’ll face Ireland on Saturday and we could have brought fresh players (in) but we decided to bank on continuity,” he added.
Lievremont preferred the 22-year-old Palisson – with one try from five appearances – to Julien Malzieu on the left wing because of his better kicking game.
“Considering the kicking game the Irish have, his left foot can help us clear our lines,” Lievremont said.
“We went for Alexis Palisson because he often plays at fullback with his Brive club and is a fine left-footed field kicker,” he added.
“We need more variety in our game, more territorial kicking. We must adapt to the Irish defence, they are very well organised, they know when to slow the play down, so we will have to bring more width to our game.”
Ireland beat France 30-21 last year on their way to winning the Grand Slam.
Although the Irish were unimpressive against Italy in Saturday’s 29-11 win, Lievremont fully expects them to “come to Paris with a huge appetite” and says France will “have to raise the bar a lot higher” to win.
“They’re an impressive team. They have an attention to detail and a pragmatism that reminds me of the Australian team,” Lievremont said.
“They are less spectacular than Wales or the All Blacks but play an incredibly efficient game, and they have conceded the least penalties in the Six Nations for some time now.”
Among the forwards, 33-year-old Sylvain Marconnet, who has made 79 appearances for France, takes over as replacement prop from Luc Ducalcon who was sidelined by a Murrayfield injury.
Emile Ntamack, a former France winger now in charge of the backs, anticipates an exciting matchup between 21-year-old Mathieu Bastareaud, and famed Irish veteran centre Brian O’Driscoll, who has 97 caps, six more for the British and Irish Lions and has long been considered among the world’s best midfielders.
O’Driscoll, who has scored 38 tries for Ireland, first made headlines with a hat trick of tries against France in 2000 to guide Ireland to their first win in Paris for 28 years.
“It is a great challenge and the players are aware of that. But trends can be reversed, a new generation is coming through, the likes of Bastareaud,” Ntamack said.
“We are hoping to cause them problems on Saturday.”