France must win to avoid Six Nations whitewash.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said that he would take any victory against Ireland – no matter what the score – to salvage the country’s disastrous Six Nations campaign.
France, rooted to the bottom of the table in their worst start to the tournament since 1982 and in danger of landing their first wooden spoon since 1957, travel to Dublin to play Ireland on Saturday.
Les Bleus, however, have the psychological advantage of knowing that they have only lost once to Ireland in their last 13 Tests – the Irish’s Grand Slam victory in 2009 – which could help them avoid a damaging fourth consecutive defeat.
“The French team’s role is to win and win well but in our situation, we’d take a 3-0 victory,” Saint-Andre told a news conference after announcing the starting XV for the match at Landsdowne Road.
“You’ve got to make your own luck. We didn’t face up to the situation in the first three matches. We’ve got to score when we’re playing well, concede fewer points when we’re not (and) be better defensively.”
“Against England, when we scored, we weren’t aggressive enough in the first line of defence. We missed a lot of first tackles. We’ve worked on that to be tighter against Ireland. We’ve got to learn to win matches again.”
Saint-Andre, who has made three changes from the 23-13 defeat against England, said a victory would lift the team, French rugby and the public back home and the team had worked hard in the last week.
Clermont scrum-half Morgan Parra and Toulon’s Frederic Michalak will start, while
Florian Fritz returns to centre ahead of Mathieu Bastareaud. Toulouse fullback-cum-wing Maxime Medard returns on the wing in place of Benjamin Fall.
Parra, 24, has 49 caps for France and played alongside 30-year-old Michalak, the more experienced player with 62 appearances, during the 22-14 victory over Samoa in November last year.
Michalak, singled out for his poor performances during the defeats to Italy and Wales, had been on the replacements bench at Twickenham. He came on in the 53rd minute but made little impact.
Saint-Andre, however, said he wanted to keep faith with the player, telling reporters: “Frederic has regained his freshness and has been very good in training.”
The French coach has selected Toulouse centre Fritz seven times in a row since the last match of the 2012 Six Nations against Wales and the first of this year’s competition against Italy.
Saint-Andre said he had dropped Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud to the bench because of doubts about his fitness but said he could still come on as an impact player.
Twenty-nine-year-old Fritz, making his 29th appearance for the national side, will play alongside the pacy Wesley Fofana, who scored an impressive solo try at Twickenham.
Medard’s return to the side was expected, nearly a year after his last international match for France, when he tore cruciate ligaments in his right knee against Scotland.
Saint-Andre said he would play on the left, working with Yoann Huget, who has impressed this year, to give France more attacking options.
“(Medard) will alternate between the wing and the back with Yoann Huget,” the coach said, adding that he was expecting up-and-unders from the Irish.