Ireland will once again be looking for South African-born CJ Stander to make an impact when they take on France in Paris on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
France vs Ireland
Ireland have to contend with a challenging start to this Six Nations season, having opened their campaign against Wales last weekend, while they’ll now take on France before facing England next Saturday.
It’s difficult to read too much into their opening match against Wales, with Ireland having surged to a 13-0 lead, only to then fade as the visitors came back to clinch a 16-16 draw.
What did stand out from that performance, though, was the display from Munster star Stander, who produced a vibrant display and made an industrious 23 carries in a Man of the Match effort.
It was a dream debut, and the key for him will be to now back that performance up with another influential showing against France.
Ireland have won the last two Six Nations titles, but a slip-up against France would already leave them playing catch-up after just two rounds of action this season.
One can’t imagine France can produce another display as uninspiring as their opening performance against Italy last weekend, but playing in front of their home fans should help inspire them to up the ante even further.
Coach Guy Novès has made six changes to France’s starting lineup for this match, four of which are unenforced, and it remains really anyone’s guess as to what sort of fare they’ll dish up on Saturday.
Ireland have endured an unsettling period with injuries, with Simon Zebo and Keith Earls having been ruled out, forcing a reshuffle in the back three.
Nevertheless, Ireland should back themselves to pick up a victory that would do their title defence the world of good.
France – 15 Maxine Medard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Maxine Mermoz, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sebastien Bezy, 8 Yacouba Camara, 7 Damieb Chouly, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Eddy Ben Arous, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Hugo Bonneval.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Nathan White, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Richard Strauss, 17 James Cronin, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Italy vs England
Last weekend it was simply a case of mission accomplished for England. Despite never looking particularly convincing, their 15-9 win over Scotland at Murrayfield would still have been more than satisfactory.
It represented a solid start to the Eddie Jones era, and provided a foundation for the side as they look to begin building up a head of steam, with a favourable fixtures schedule to start the season.
There were brief glimpses of England’s potential against Scotland, but they’ll also be fully aware that it wasn’t a performance that would really strike any sort of fear into their title rivals.
However, a clash against Italy offers up another opportunity to get their wheels into motion, with Jones making three tactical changes to his starting side, including two in the tight five.
The battle up front should be particularly intriguing on Saturday, with England having impressed at scrum time against Scotland, but they’re set to come up against an Italian pack that won’t be willing to be bullied in the forward exchanges.
Italy would also have been encouraged by their gutsy performance against France last weekend, and captain Sergio Parisse (ill-judged drop goal attempt aside) will once again be looking to lead from the front.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, Sergio Parisse, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gego, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Edoardo Padovani , 23 Andrea Pratichetti.
Wales vs Scotland
Wales received a significant boost ahead of this match when star flyhalf Dan Biggar was cleared of injury, allowing coach Warren Gatland to name an unchanged starting lineup.
Word from the Welsh camp has suggested they were dissatisfied with the draw against Ireland last weekend, and while that speaks to their high standards, they’ll probably be quietly content to have come back from 13-0 down to clinch a share of the spoils in Dublin.
Nevertheless, nothing less than a win will do against Scotland, particularly considering Wales have challenging matches to come against France and England in the next two rounds.
Scotland remain tricky customers, though, as England found out last weekend, with coach Vern Cotter making just one change to the starting lineup as Duncan Taylor comes into the midfield.
Wales – 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Dan Lydiate, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, Gareth Anscombe.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Dave Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Sean Lamont.
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images