Six Nations: The second weekend preview
Morgan Parra has fanned the flames ahead of this evening’s crucial Six Nations fixture against the reigning champions Ireland by suggesting that the Grand Slam holders “cheat every weekend.”
Parra, the talented young Clermont-Auvergne scrum-half, admitted that the Irish have “a great defence,” but put it down to the fact that “there’s not a moment where they’re not cheating”.
The remarks will add extra spice to a fixture which already has much riding on it. France looked the most likely challengers to Ireland’s crown on the opening weekend of fixtures with a comfortable victory over Scotland, and have the kind of squad which would make most coaches green with envy.
Franco-Irish relations are also decidedly frosty in the aftermath of Thierry Henry’s handball in the football World Cup play-off match in Paris last November and the Irish public, regardless of their sporting affiliations, will be willing their side to capture some revenge.
Ronan O’Gara, whose form has been impressive since losing his place in the team to Johnny Sexton last Autumn, has been retained in the starting line-up, in spite of Sexton’s return to fitness. The visitors will also be boosted by the return of Lions flanker Stephen Ferris from a knee injury and his fellow Lion, Keith Earls, makes a first Six Nations start on the wing.
Meanwhile Marc Lievremont makes two changes from the side who won in Edinburgh with Vincent Clerc and Alexis Palisson replacing the injured duo of Aurelien Rougerie and Benjamin Fall.
A buoyant England will travel to Rome on Sunday to face their perennial whipping boys Italy, who will once again be without talismanic captain Sergio Parisse. Italy have never beaten England and Martin Johnson’s team will expect to prevail once again with a team which shows just one change, as Leicester’s Dan Cole - who has played just 10 games for the Tigers - replaces David Wilson at tight-head prop.
Scotland coach Andy Robinson has been attempting to get under the skin of an irritable Welsh squad with his request that their match at the Millennium Stadium be played with the roof open regardless of the weather conditions.
Under the rules, both sides must agree for the roof to be closed and Robinson follows in the footsteps of Martin Johnson, who made the same request before their opener with Wales last season.
Warren Gatland, who makes two changes to his side but retains lock Alun Wyn Jones, has reacted ruefully to the decision but chose to concentrate on a match which James Hook has described as “much win.”
The weather seems unlikely to play a part however with the forecast set fair and Wales will be expected to deliver against a Scotland side who continue to struggle to score tries. They do have the metronomic boot of Chris Patterson though, and the Scottish full-back will become the first Caledonian to win 100 caps when he takes to the field on Saturday.