Johnny Sexton returns for Ireland and PSA says he is a 'high-level' player. James Crombie/INPHO

'We're ready for this match and we're going there to win' - France coach PSA

Philippe Saint-André respects Ireland but says his team have the quality to earn victory in Dublin.

FRANCE HEAD COACH Philippe Saint-André isn’t buying into the negativity around his team on home soil, stating his confidence that les Blues can win in Dublin against Joe Schmidt’s Ireland on Saturday.

Saint-André acknowledges that Ireland are an excellent team, and admits that returning men like Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip add to that quality, but has underlined that his own side travel with belief.

Reaction on the ground to France’s 15-8 victory over Scotland last weekend has been gloomy, with the majority of the French media and supporters viewing the stuttering performance as a portent of further ills to come.

Furthermore, Saint-André has yet to record a victory over Ireland in his time as coach of les Blues, although he has seen his France team draw twice [2012 and 2013], as well as losing by just two points last year in Paris.

The combined effect is that the French rugby fraternity is preparing itself for another defeat under Saint-André this weekend, but the former Toulon and Gloucester boss remains defiant.

In the last three matches, there have been two draws and one defeat by only two points,” said Saint-André at a press conference in Paris yesterday. “We can see the gap is not as huge as people might tell us and we’re preparing to be competitors in this match.

“Ireland have strung together eight wins in a row and are the third-ranked nation in the world [fourth after last weekend] but we’re going there to play and we believe in ourselves.

“We respect all teams, but we fear nobody. We’re going there [to Dublin] with ambition. We know we’ll have to be disciplined, good in contact, ferocious in the collisions, strong in the tackle and that we’ll have to move [around the pitch] well.

“We’re ready for this match and we’re going there to win.”

Philippe Saint Andre Saint-André has had Serge Blanco foisted on him by the FFR this season. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Saint-André indicated that the opening 20 minutes of the fixture are of paramount importance to France’s chances of success, while pointing to the fact that Ireland will not give up the penalty-scoring chances Scotland did last weekend.

It took five place kicks from man of the match Camille Lopez to secure victory in Stade de France last time out, but Saint-André says les Blues won’t be able to rely as heavily on the same source at the Aviva Stadium.

“Ireland are very disciplined and they concede only eight penalties per game. I believe Ireland are a team with real confidence, we saw how they scored 14 points in two minutes against the Italians. They’re effective and disciplined.”

The returning Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton will give Ireland an even more effective edge than they had against Italy, although Saint-André did indicate that the Racing Métro man may be somewhat rusty after his long spell on the sidelines.

They’re players of a very high level, they’re key Irish players,” said Saint-André. “I believe Johnny Sexton hasn’t played for 12 weeks so we must test him.”

Finally, the France head coach revealed that his decision to included Vincent Debaty on the bench for this fixture was down to the Clermont man’s success against Marty Moore during the closing stages of last year’s clash with Ireland in Paris.

“Because of the strong play against Ireland, the strong play at tighthead last season. It’s true that Vincent had him in big, big difficulty in the last 20 minutes. [We want] to have a strong scrum, to win penalties at the end of the match.”

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