French seek to blunt Irish

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PARIS, February 12- Coach Marc Lievremont and captain Thierry Dusautoir have appealed to the French to find their killer touch — and if they do so on Saturday it will spell the end of Irish hopes of repeating the Six Nations Grand Slam.The Irish will be spurred on not only by keeping alive their quest for successive Grand Slams — they would be only the sixth team to do it in over 100 years of the tournament — but also by the extra spice of beating the French on the same ground where Thierry Henry’s handball ensured their footballing compatriots would not be going to the World Cup finals this summer.

For the French, they have the incentive of staying on course for their first Grand Slam and first title since Lievremont took over from Bernard Laporte after the 2007 World Cup finals.

Dusautoir, known as the ‘dark destroyer’, had called before the tournament started for his team-mates to show a more clinical edge to their game — however Lievremont was having to repeat that plea after the French failed to press home their superiority against the Scots last weekend.

Having led 15-9 at half-time they ran out only 18-9 winners, spurning several chances to put themselves out of sight.

"I believe we were in their (the Scots) half for 60-65 percent of the match, and had 55 percent possession," said the 41-year-old former Dax coach.

"We failed to kill the match. It is imperative that we do better, especially as Ireland have more weapons than the Scots."

Lievremont, who has used 71 players since he took over though his sides show more consistency in selection policy now, especially highlighted three players who could turn the match if they are given any freedom.

"We know that with the left foot of (Rob) Kearney, (Ronan) O’Gara’s vision in directing play and similarly (Brian) O’Driscoll’s, not to mention their superb scrum, they will pose us many problems," said Lievremont.

Dusautoir said it was no accident that the Irish team have gone unbeaten in their last 12 matches — all under the coaching aegis of Declan Kidney — since a 17-3 victory over Argentina in Dublin in November 2008.

"They are a team who know how to play within the rules, very intelligent and enormously powerful," said 28-year-old Dusautoir, who was born in the Ivory Coast, the son of a French father and an Ivorian mother.

"They are extremely pragmatic and are justified in being the favourites for the title."

Nevertheless it is 10 years since the Irish seemingly laid a bogey to rest when they beat France in Paris for the first time in 28 years (27-25).

Just three players — O’Driscoll, fly-half O’Gara and prop John ‘The Bull’ Hayes’ — in Saturday’s line-up were present on that memorable March day in 2000 when O’Driscoll confirmed his prodigious talent by scoring a hat-trick of tries.

However, like the French the Irish will be looking for a vast improvement in their performance after a sluggish 29-11 opening victory over Italy.

Despite Ireland’s wretched record against the French – just three wins in their last 11 meetings – veteran lock Paul O’Connell believes that he will sample what it is like to win in Paris come Saturday evening.

"If we beat France in Paris it will be an incredible feat and a box ticked," said the 30-year-old British and Irish Lions captain, who has won just once in eight clashes with the French.

"It would be the highlight of my career. And believe me we are not travelling over there for once with an inferiority complex as this is as strong a side as we have had to take them on."

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