Best eager for improvement against France


Rory Best expects perpetual improvement as Ireland go in search of a first win of their Six Nations campaign against France in Paris on Saturday.

Ireland have won each of their last three games against France in all competitions, including a 24-9 victory in their Pool D clash at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Although recent history may be in favour of Joe Schmidt's side, the visitors have only triumphed in three of their last 12 Six Nations matches against Les Bleus.

Ireland opened their campaign with a 16-16 draw at home to Wales on Sunday, when captain Best was disappointed with the way the defending champions started the game.

Best hopes to see clear development throughout the 80 minutes in Paris, insisting Ireland cannot let the six changes made by France head coach Guy Noves be an excuse for a lacklustre performance.

"We're under no illusions that this is going to be a sterner test again, and the big thing for us is to make sure we've done our work on them - but also to make sure that we keep pushing forward," said Best.

"We've got to make sure we don't start this game cold, the way we did against Wales. The first scrum has to be slightly better than the last scrum against Wales, and so on and so forth throughout the game.

"France have got a very, very good squad, so no matter who is picked it's a tough challenge. Three changes in the front-five certainly freshens things up but by no means weakens them. It paints a slightly different picture for us, so we need to make sure that we are geared accordingly. 

"We pride ourselves on putting as much attention and detail into the subs as the starters. A lot of the time it's the end of the game where you're winning it. So for us it was just a change in emphasis as to who was starting and who was on the bench."

France relied on Jules Plisson's penalty five minutes from time to open with a 23-21 victory over Italy in Noves' first match at the helm.

The 62-year-old has included a number of new faces in his side, evidenced in his naming of the youngest squad in the opening round of fixtures with an average age of 24 years and 263 days.

Jefferson Poirot will make his first start, while Uini Atonio has also been drafted in as Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous drop to the bench.

Simon Zebo (knee) and Keith Earls (head) are absent for Ireland, but Sean O'Brien has recovered from a hamstring problem to feature at flanker and Jonny Sexton is fit despite taking a knock last weekend.


Key Opta stats:
- France opened their 2016 campaign with a win over Italy, though they haven't won consecutive Six Nations matches since their opening two games of the 2014 campaign.
- Guy Noves' side need just eight points to record their 3,000th at home in their Five/Six Nations history; they've scored at least eight points in every home game against the Irish since 1950.
- Les Bleus made 20 offloads in their opening round fixture, no other side made more than 11; Ireland in contrast made just two.
- CJ Stander made more carries than any other player in last weekend's fixtures (23); only five players have made more in a Six Nations match.
- Ireland have won their last three against France in all competitions, but have not won four in a row against Les Bleus since winning six on the bounce between 1924 and 1928.