Ireland’s Joe Schmidt expects France to get physical with forward power

• Philippe Saint-André names six forwards on bench
• Schmidt says Six Nations game will be 'very, very physical'

Ireland's attempt at a second championship in six years will be carried out in Paris on Saturday by the usual suspects, a small band of just 18 players whom Joe Schmidt has used as starters in four matches to date. Peter O'Mahony, returning from a hamstring injury, is the only change to the starting line up from the win over Italy last weekend, which inflated Ireland's points difference to put them firmly in pole position.

Where Schmidt has done some tinkering however is on the bench. Evidently reluctant to mess with his starting XV, the coach has opted for Leinster fly-half Ian Madigan as a replacement. His game time at Leinster this season has been hampered by the arrival of Jimmy Gopperth and he takes over from Paddy Jackson who has understudied Johnny Sexton in each of the previous rounds. It means that if Madigan gets game time in Paris then three 10s will have been seen action over the campaign. Ian Henderson also drops back to the bench having filled in for O'Mahony last weekend, with Rhys Ruddock losing out.

While Schmidt has gone again for a five-three split between replacement forwards and backs, Philippe Saint-André's six-two suggests a barrage is coming Ireland's way.

"I was probably a little surprised they went for the six-two split but I also can see some logic in it because it is going to be very, very physical," Schmidt says. "I think it just allows fresh legs and to maintain a physical intensity to bash the opposition even when fatigue starts to tell. The athleticism and impact that [Wenceslas] Lauret can make, the size and strength of guys like [Sébastien] Vahaamahina and [Alexandre] Flanquart, they can all be really useful off the bench. It's going to be a big challenge for our two young lads off the bench with Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy. Very, very young men. To match up to that sort of physicality that's going to be brought off the French bench is going to be part of their growth. Hopefully that will give us a heads up for the future and a little bit of an investment for the future."

Some of that physical onslaught, Schmidt believes, will be directed at Ireland's driven lineouts, which have served them well do far.

"I think teams are probably looking to counteract our maul," he says. "I think the Italians had certainly done some homework – I spoke to Jacques Brunel after the game and they had done a lot of work on making sure they stopped the maul one way or another and most of the time it worked pretty well for them.

"So I've no doubt with those big guys France intend to try to get in, sack you early or separate you and bust through it. Pascal Papé is very good at getting through the middle and getting hands on. They've got guys who are pretty good at combating the maul already; they've picked lots of them so combine that and that probably are going to look to be as effective as they can be in the domain."

While a championship title would be the perfect conclusion to part two of Schmidt's first season – the first saw one win from three in November – he maintains that generating an atmosphere of excitement around and about the squad was his first priority.

"To be honest I could probably say my expectations have been superseded already. I think they're a fantastic bunch to work with, there's a great staff that surround them that make sure that they're in the right condition to play, they are incredibly well led by the captain and his cohorts and they're self-driven. As Paul [O'Connell] said, we've just got to be confident about what we need to do and hopefully that's something we can provide for the people who have those expectations, and who are getting excited about the team."

Ireland team to play France, Stade de France, 5pm Saturday 15 March

R Kearney (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney (all Leinster), J Sexton (Racing Métro), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross, D Toner (both Leinster), P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony (both Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, M Moore (all Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Murphy, E Reddan, I Madigan, F McFadden (all Leinster). © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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