After the best part of two months holed up in training camps, France will finally lose the tackle bags and begin their World Cup warm-up in earnest when they take on Ireland on Saturday.
The French, who have a history of travelling well to New Zealand, have high hopes for the World Cup but they go into this match at the Stade Chaban-Delmas more concerned about injuries than the actual result.
For a number of players, this first Ireland clash - the two teams meet again in Dublin next week - will be their first serious match for several months, their seasons having been truncated by injuries.
With first choice hooker William Servat still recovering from a knee injury, Dimitri Szarzewski takes up post in the middle of the front row - his first outing since January.
Maxime Mermoz, who has been out of action since the opening Six Nations match against Scotland in February, returns at centre while Damien Traille, on the sidelines since March, is at full-back.
Right wing Vincent Clerc is in the starting line up two weeks after he had surgery on his right knee while prop Fabien Barcella, who ruptured his Achilles tendon last August and missed the entire season, is on the bench.
Coach Marc Lievremont, who is only looking to cut two from his 32-man preliminary World Cup squad, might be excused some chewn-off finger nails especially as prop Thomas Domingo and centre Aurelien Rougerie - neither of whom features in Bordeaux - are also returning from serious injuries.
The one new face in the French line-up, though, is the exciting number eight Raphael Lakafia whose superb form in the Top 14 was enough to see off Sebastien Chabal.
Lievremont has sensibly slotted him in alongside Biarritz teammates Imanol Harinordoquy on the flank and scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili.
"I am ready physically and mentally for this challenge," said Lakafia.
"I am not worried about the game. I will just try and keep my head. Throughout the year, it has been getting closer but things happen in their own good time. I must keep focussed but I see no reason why anything should go badly."
Ireland arrive in Bordeaux with their own injury concerns, notably to captain Brian O'Driscoll who is still recovering from a neck/shoulder injury.
Declan Kidney's team would like to take a small measure of revenge for their 25-22 defeat in Dublin by the French during the Six Nations and build on the 10-6 loss to Scotland last weekend.
"I think once you get the opportunity to wear the green jersey you've got to win the match. That's going to be our primary objective," said Kidney.
In the continued absence of O'Driscoll, Kidney, who made nine changes - one of them positional - to the side that lost in Edinburgh, is putting out a new-look centre combination with Keith Earls partnering Paddy Wallace.
Veteran fly-half Ronan O'Gara will start in tandem with Eoin Reddan at scrum-half.
In the forwards, Donnacha Ryan switches from the second row to the blindside flank with Donncha O'Callaghan coming in to partner Leo Cullen at lock.
Sean O'Brien also comes into the back row while Kidney has chosen an entirely new front row to face the French comprising Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross.
Cullen, who has borrowed O'Driscoll's captain's armband, said Ireland would need to maintain their shape against the French.
"It's always a massive challenge playing any French team away from home," said Cullen. "We need to be very secure when we have the ball.
"They have a lot of pace through the team and if we give them opportunities they're going to be very very dangerous. So we have to be very disciplined in the way we approach the game."
Fighting words from both sides but for Lievremont and Kidney, a clean bill of health on Sunday morning would probably be just as welcome.
Players to watch:
For France: As always the first place you look in a French team is the flyhalf, to see what type of gam they might play. No doubt Francois Trinh-Duc will look to lay down a World Cup marker. As a debutant No.8 Raphael Lakafia will also accommodate a reasonable share of the spotlight, while the lock combination of Romain Millo-Chluski and Julien Pierre could make for an interesting game.
For Ireland: Keith Earls at outside centre, alongside Paddy Wallace will be worth watching - especially with Brian O'Driscoll still injured. You also never know which version of Ronan O'Gara turns up - the bumbling fool who cost the Lions a series against South Africa or the match-winning Irish star.
Head to head: There are always questions about the Irish set pieces, especially the scrums - which means the French front row of Luc Ducalcon, Dimitri Szarzewski and Sylvain Marconnet could have a field day against Mike Ross, Rory Best and Cian Healy. In the centres David Marty and Maxime Mermoz (France) will no doubt test the defences of the Irish pair, Keith Earls and Paddy Wallace.
2011: France won 25-22, Dublin
2010: France won 33-10, Paris
2009: Ireland won 30-21, Dublin
2008: France won 26-21, Paris
2007: France won 25-3, Paris World Cup pool match)
2007: France won 20-17, Dublin
2006: France won 43-31, Paris
2005: France won 26-19, Dublin
2004: France won 35-17, Paris
2003: France won 43-21, Melbourne (World Cup quarterfinal)
Prediction: Predicting any French game is a lottery, because you never know in what mindset they will be. However, they always seem to be up for the Irish and with nine wins in their last 10 meetings, you simply can't ignore the fact that the French are favourite - along with the fact that they are playing at home. We'll hope the French are in a good mood, because then France should win comfortably - by 10 points or more.
France: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 David Marty, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Raphael Lakafia, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Romain Millo-Chluski, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Sylvain Marconnet.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Lionel Nallet, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 David Skrela, 22 Maxime Medard.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Leo Cullen (captain), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Paul O'Connell, 19 Jamie Heaslip, 20 Conor Murray, 21 Fergus McFadden, 22 Felix Jones.
Date: Saturday, August 13
Venue: Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux
Kick-off: 16.30 (14.30 GMT)
Expected weather: White Cloud. High 28°C, low 2°C.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson (England), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
AFP & rugby365.com
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