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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Lynne Cameron/PA Wire Sean Maitland hauls Keith Earls to the ground.
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'Earls will never miss passing to O'Driscoll ever again' - Shane Byrne
The former Leinster and Ireland hooker is delighted with the changes in the French starting XV.

YOU DID NOT need a crystal ball to see that Paddy Jackson would be fit to start against France.

The whole Ronan O’Gara issue was concocted by Declan Kidney, in my eyes.

He put three outhalves into his squad and said there was no place for O’Gara. Jonathan Sexton was never going to make it for this weekend but was named so O’Gara could be left out.

The funny thing is O’Gara had played well for Munster [against Ospreys] the day before. Still, I don’t think the dropping is a harsh thing, the other two lads – Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan – are playing better rugby.

O’Gara was a major stalwart of the team for almost 13 years and had a fantastic career. He should look back on it with absolute joy.

The only thing missing is that deserved ovation he would have got going off the pitch.

O’Gara may never get the Irish send-off his illustrious career deserves. (©INPHO/James Crombie)

Maybe Kidney is finally starting to select players with a bit more freedom. He has been too bloody static for too long.

Some of his changes are questionable but not when it comes to Jackson over O’Gara. It was the form selection but could have been handled better.

Gameplan will not alter

Wesley Fofana is a superb player and everything good from the French backline generally goes through him.

Louis Picamoles is an absolutely incredible player. If he can stay injury-free he’ll go down as one of the best Number 8′s of all-time.

I’ve a lot of time for Fergus McFadden. He should have been on the pitch against Scotland. He is in incredible form and has shown that consistently all season.

You could not argue with the selections of Craig Gilroy or Simon Zebo at the start of the championships but, on this occasion, an injury [to Gilroy] has saved Kidney from making that big decision.

Jackson distributed well to his backline and was the focal point for those clean breaks we made against the Scots.

There will be no change to the gameplan – the bulk of the ball carries will be up to Sean O’Brien again.

Our execution of try-scoring chances was poor. I don’t think Keith Earls will ever miss passing to Brian O’Driscoll ever again.

O’Driscoll and Earls exchange views at Murrayfield. (YouTube: RBS6Nations)

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All change again

Any other coach on the planet would have started, on Saturday, with the team that started against England.

They were playing fantastic at Twickenham and had the match in the bag. But Philippe Saint-Andre has made wholesale changes, dismantled that team and picked players that came on and failed against England.

They made great linebreaks and were very physical against England but that’s all out the window and, as far as Ireland are concerned, happy days.

France are staring down an alleyway they haven’t been down in over 20 years.

It is an absolutely impossible game to call. As I’ve said before, we have no idea what Ireland team will show up.

Will we see that side that started so well against Wales or the one that did everything right against Scotland but score.

I genuinely feel that they can win the game.

*Shane Byrne’s publication, Club Rugby Magazine is available monthly in the Irish Independent. Follow the magazine, and all the latest rugby news, on Twitter @ClubRugby1.

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