France turns to Grand Slam-winning halfbacks
Updated: February 09, 2012, 11:03
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LONDON(AP) His hand forced by necessity, France coach Philippe Saint-Andre will turn to the halfback combination that carried the team to its last Six Nations Grand Slam against Ireland on Saturday.
With veteran scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili laboring with a back problem, Morgan Parra will line up alongside flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc at Stade de France in the showdown between the pretournament favorites.
But Ireland can call upon the experienced Keith Earls to fill in for injured center Brian O'Driscoll and is confident of improving upon its narrow opening loss against Wales.
While Rugby World Cup finalist France beat Italy 30-12 last weekend in Saint-Andre's debut, Ireland lost 23-21 following a late penalty awarded against Stephen Ferris for an alleged tip tackle.
The return of Earls, a specialist wing who pulled out of last week's match because his newborn child was ill, means coach Declan Kidney has selected the same 22-man matchday squad he originally selected to face Wales.
"There's a lot we have to improve on,'' Ireland captain Paul O'Connell said. "Some of the silly errors we made against Wales we must cut out.
"Against France away from home you need to start well. It's frustrating that I haven't beaten France in Paris, but we have a team that can do it.''
That's a bold call considering much of the squad has been involved in a run of 11 defeats in 12 matches against France, which is unbeaten against the Irish at Stade de France since a 27-25 upset in 2000.
O'Connell's win rate of just 8.33 percent against France is his worst against any side other than world champion New Zealand.
Ferris was cited but cleared of the offense and is free to take his place in Ireland's backrow against a side that could contain two players convicted of gouging him.
Saint-Andre has called up Julien Dupuy as injury cover, two years after the scrumhalf missed the 2010 Six Nations because of a 24-week ban for gouging the Ulster flanker. France's squad also contains prop David Attoub, who received an even longer ban for gouging - also on Ferris. Attoub's initial 70-week ban was reduced to 52 weeks.
"Julien Dupuy seemed an obvious choice given his international experience and the way he's started the season with Stade Francais,'' Saint-Andre said.
Parra, who has 37 test caps and played in the World Cup final - albeit as a makeshift flyhalf selected ahead of Trinh-Duc - is expected to take kicking duties. He has kicked 51 penalties and one drop goal for France.
Dupuy, who has six caps, is also a reliable kicker.
With 70,000 fans set to roar on Italy in its first Six Nations match at Rome's Stadio Olimpico, England coach Stuart Lancaster stuck with the team that beat Scotland as he attempts to avoid a potential upset against Italy.
Lancaster is trusting the talent in his young squad can again overcome a deficit in experience. With the likes of Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Phil Dowson and Mauritz Botha keeping their spots, England's starting 15 boasts just 251 caps.
"We are expecting our bench to come on and make an impact as they did last week,'' Lancaster said. "Italy will be a very difficult challenge with nearly 700 caps in their starting lineup.''
Veteran Italy center Gonzalo Canale believes his team has a great chance of beating the defending champion for the first time in 18 tests.
"I believe we can do it and all the team really believes we can do it,'' Canale said.
Wales has problems in the second row with Bradley Davies joining the injured Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones on the sidelines with a seven-week ban for a tip tackle on Donnacha Ryan.
Former captain Ryan Jones has switched from the backrow to Davies' No. 4 shirt.
"Ryan Jones has been on top of his game as a second-row and back-row for the Ospreys, and we are really happy with the way he is playing at the moment,'' Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde said. "We have that option, even if it would not give him as much freedom to run around the field carrying the ball.''
In a sign that it will attempt to match the home side's free-flowing approach to the game, Scotland has asked Wales to close the Millennium Stadium roof to be closed.