Ireland are preparing for a full-blooded encounter with France here Saturday as the two Six Nations heavyweights collide at Lansdowne Road with players from both sides vying for places at the World Cup.
After defeats in earlier warm-up games to Scotland and Saturday's opponents France, Ireland have named a virtual full-strength side as they attempt to score a morale-boosting victory before heading to New Zealand.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney names his 30-man party for the World Cup on Monday, meaning Saturday's Test in Dublin has become a final audition for players hoping to force their way into the squad.
Ireland ran France close in Bordeaux last week before eventually succumbing 19-12, but Kidney drew encouragement from a spirited fightback by his experimental team that suggested a useful strength in depth.
Kidney has made 10 changes to his starting line-up this weekend, the most prominent of which sees Ireland captain and talisman Brian O'Driscoll return.
O'Driscoll partners Gordon D'Arcy at centre while there are starting berths for Paul O'Connell and Jamie Heaslip, both of whom impressed after coming on as second half replacements against France last week.
Other changes include a first cap for Felix Jones at fullback, while Stephen Ferris is named on the bench as he makes a long anticipated return from injury.
O'Driscoll, who will be playing in his fourth World Cup this year, said the competition for places in the Irish squad was the most intense of his career.
"We're in a different place with this squad compared to previous years for the most part, where you would have been pretty sure what the 29/30 players might have been," he said.
"But now people look at the squad and see people who may be left out and think, 'Wow, there's some really good players left out.'
"That's a testament to the squad development and also the attitude of the guys."
Performance, rather than points, is what Kidney wants to see from his men on Saturday, but O'Driscoll believes it needs to be a combination of both if Ireland are to beat France.
"France are more often than not a very difficult side to play against and we’ve obviously found it hard," he said.
"The big thing to see at the weekend is how we start the game, if we can get on top, with some fluidity in our game and play with that freedom.
"A lot (of the key to winning) is staying with teams like France and trying to close games out in last 10 to 15 minutes.
"When we have beaten France, that is inevitably how we've done it.
"It's also great to have tough games like this before the World Cup because you want to see where you are against the best opposition, you can see where you are from a physical point of view."
France coach Marc Lievremont meanwhile has rung the changes for the side which beat the Irish in the home fixture, bringing in 13 new faces.
Lievremont, who will name his World Cup squad on Sunday, defended his decision to shuffle his line-up once more in what his France's final warm-up match before the World Cup kicks off.
"It's a warm-up game," said Lievremont. "We need to play these guys. We're on course for the World Cup and it was out of the question to make 15 players sweat blood and tears and not make the others play.
"From the moment we chose to play two warm-up games, and I don't regret that choice, everybody had to play."
Players to watch:
For Ireland: The skipper Brian O'Driscoll will have all eyes on him as he makes his first appearance in the warm-up matches after shaking off an injury and is the catalyst to all that is good about Irish rugby. Halfback pairing Tomas O'Leary and Jonathan Sexton will be looking to forge a strong partnership and be regarded as first choice ahead of Eoin Reddan and Ronan O'Gara.
For France: Scrumhalf Morgan Parra has the country divided between those who think he is the best No.9 available and those who see him as little more than a poor man's Dimitri Yachvili. Unpredictable flyhalf David Skrela must also find a way of silencing his critis and will hope to produce more Dr Jekyll moments and fewer from Mr Hyde.
Head to head: The spotlight will be on the midfield, where Irish centres Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll will need to be at their twinkle-toed best to get past the very large French pair Fabrice Estebanez and Aurelien Rougerie. Pound for pound the French will have the upper hand, but O'Driscoll's magic is proven against the best.
2011: France won 19-12, Bordeaux
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 35-3, Paris
2007: France won 20-17, Dublin
2006: France won 43-21, Paris
2005: France won 26-19, Dublin
Prediction: Ireland haven't looked the part so far this year and there will be no excuses left if their 'A' team can't do the business at home, but France have a very strong record on their side. The French have a more creative approach to the game and their big pack of forwards could have the Irish on the back foot. France by less than 10.
Ireland: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Tom Court, 18 Mike McCarthy, 19 Stephen Ferris, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Luke Fitzgerald.
France: 15 Cedric Heymans, 14 Maxime Medard, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 David Skrela, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Louis Picamoles, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Lionel Nallet (captain), 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Raphael Lakafia, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 Francois Trinh-Duc, 22 Vincent Clerc.
Date: Saturday, August 20
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.00 (15.00 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Tim Hayes (Wales)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)
AFP and rugby365.com
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