England can still claim championship with win in Rome and Ireland loss or draw in Paris
France coach offers himself as scapegoat for team’s poor performances
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre volunteered on Thursday to be the scapegoat for France’s much-criticised performances as he brought back powerhouse Louis Picamoles for the Six Nations decider against Ireland.
France faced a torrent of criticism after their insipid 19-17 win over Scotland last weekend, on the back of a limp effort in losing 27-6 in Wales two weeks earlier.
“There is frustration over the last match,” acknowledged the coach, who made four changes for the team to play on Saturday.
But Saint-Andre said the critics should halt their attacks on his players.
“What happens on the outside is not important. If I have to be the scapegoat, then no problem. But let the players do their work,” he said, before reminding critics that he does not have a full-strength side to pick from.
“When you realise how many important players are out injured, there are six, seven, eight, and yet we still see this group improving, picking themselves up and still being in a position to win the Six Nations.
“We’re still dreaming about winning, about scoring 15 tries and that everyone’s in a dream.
“But seriously, we’re doing a lot better than last year at this point. Then we had three defeats and a draw, now we have three wins.”
Saint-Andre has recalled Picamoles, who was left out last weekend as punishment for having sarcastically applauded referee Alain Rolland after being sent to the sin-bin against Wales in Cardiff.
Ireland, England and France are level on points, but such is the chasm in points difference between the teams, Les Bleus know that even if they beat the Irish, they still need Italy to do them a favour against England to come away with the championship.
Fit-again back-row Peter O’Mahony was the only change by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt in his starting side for Paris.
O’Mahony missed Ireland’s 46-7 rout of Italy last time out with hamstring trouble but has been passed fit for what is set to be Irish rugby great Brian O’Driscoll’s final Test before retirement.
Centre star O’Driscoll, already the world’s most-capped player, will make his 141st Test appearance on Saturday.
It was in Paris that the 35-year-old Leinster midfielder announced himself to world rugby by scoring a hat-trick of tries in Ireland’s 27-25 victory in 2000.
But the Irish have a commanding points difference advantage of 49 over England, who in turn are 29 better off than France.
Any sort of Ireland victory should be enough to see the visitors send O’Driscoll off in style with the championship, although England could emerge on top if they beat Italy earlier in the day and France defeat the Irish.
A draw, the result in the last two France-Ireland encounters, would hand the title to England – for whom Stuart Lancaster named an unchanged starting XV – provided they win in Rome.
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