Ireland’s rugby season is finally up and running -- and the players are ready for the stiff test to come in Paris after recording a first win of the Six Nations campaign.

After a defeat to Wales and a postponement in the initial game with France, the Aviva Stadium record points haul against the Italians – final score Ireland 42 France 10 -- was just what the doctor ordered on Saturday.

Ireland have only won once in Paris since 1972, but center Keith Earls, one of the try scorers on Saturday, believes the Italian connection will now work wonders for the visitors.

“We’re happy. That was a big scoreline for us against Italy,” said the Munster star. “After the Welsh game we wanted to go out and prove ourselves.

 “There were a lot of bruised bodies at the end because it was so physical, but we’re happy. It’s a good note on which to be going to the Stade de France next week.”

Ireland made heavy work of a 17-10 halftime lead but really opened up in the second half of a game that saw Tommy Bowe score two tries and Tom Court, Andrew Trimble and Earls also touch down.

Leinster out-half Jonathon Sexton was faultless with 17 points from the boot as the Irish turned the game in their favor after the break.

Earls added, “Not much was said at halftime. We knew it was going to take 60-odd minutes to break Italy down.

“We knew we had to be direct in the second half, which we did and the scores came from that. The second-half was a lot better and we got our second wind and some good scores. The back line clicked so it was good.”

With the injured Brian O’Driscoll watching from the stands, it was left to Earls and Gordon D’Arcy to fill the central ranks for Ireland.

French pair AurElien Rougerie and Wesley Fofana await on Sunday in what will be a sterner test for the Irish duo.

“Gordon and I haven’t played with each other that much and he is used to Brian, so it will take a while before we’re used to each other,” said Earls.

“We’re confident together and know each other well. I don’t think we did anything bad against Italy and our confidence will only grow from here.”

Like Earls, Irish captain Paul O’Connell believes his team will be ready for Paris after their Italian inspiration.

“It’s great to get that result going to Paris, so we’re probably in a better place than we were the last time we went over,” said O’Connell.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney was happy with his team’s sense of ambition against the Italians.

“We did some simple things well. In the second-half we put away our scores very well and we’re delighted with that,” said Kidney.

“There was a bit of wearing down that had to be done in the first 50 minutes, as there are in all Test matches. We could probably have done a little more of that in their half rather than ours, but I can’t fault the boys for trying to play.

“We had the courage to play, but what we need to do is get the balance right. That comes with playing together and the more time we spend together the better we’ll become.”

Ireland: Kearney; Bowe, Earls, D’Arcy, Trimble; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ferris, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: Reddan for Murray 54 mins; McFadden for Earls 67 mins; O’Gara for Sexton 70 mins; Ryan for O’Callaghan 70 mins; Cronin for Best 70 mins; Court for Healey 70 mins.
Back to Fitness

Ireland coach Declan Kidney expects to have Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy fit for Sunday’s game in Paris despite injuries picked up against Italy last weekend.

Kearney reported a tight groin during the game but a scan has revealed no significant damage. D’Arcy took a blow to the shoulder but had no ill-effects after the game.

Healy received a blow to the jaw early in the game and will take part in modified training while O’Brien turned an ankle during the game and went for a precautionary scan which was clear.
Rugby Shorts

Former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan has admitted he is interested in the upcoming vacancies with Munster and Ulster.  Munster coach Tony McGahan is to return to Australia to work with their national side while the Ulster branch have decided not to renew coach Brian McLaughlin’s contract. “I’m in the market for a job. We’ll see what happens,” said O’Sullivan . . .

MUNSTER scrum-half Peter Stringer will remain in England and join Newcastle Falcons on a short-term loan when his current arrangement with Saracens expires in early March . . .

ANTHONY Foley will work as forwards coach with the Ireland team for the remainder of the Six Nations campaign after Gert Smal was forced to rest due to a long-term eye condition . . .

FRANCE have called up Toulouse full-back Clement Poitrenaud after the injured Maxime Medard was forced to pull out of the squad to face Ireland on Sunday.

Trap’s Team

Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni will hand Derry duo James McClean and Shane Duffy their international debuts from the bench on Wednesday night.

Sunderland winger McClean and Everton defender Duffy have been named as substitutes for the Aviva Stadium friendly against the Czech Republic.

The game is the second last match before Trapattoni names squad for the European Championships in Poland this summer.

McClean and Duffy have their work cut out to make that squad but should get some chance to impress the Italian on Wednesday.

Wigan midfielder James McCarthy is in the same boat despite a late injury crisis for the Irish boss.
Wolves striker Kevin Doyle and Birmingham’s Keith Fahey were the latest players to withdraw on Tuesday.

Like defender Stephen Kelly and goalkeeper Keiren Westwood they have now returned to their clubs in England.

As a result, West Brom’s Shane Long will now partner skipper Robbie Keane in attack.
Ireland vs. the Czech Republic: Given; O'Shea, St. Ledger, O’Dea, Ward; Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady; Long, Keane (capt).

No Pity

CELTIC old boy Aiden McGeady has admitted he has little or no sympathy for financially crippled Rangers as the Ibrox club are threatened with extinction.

Now playing for Spartak Moscow in Russia, McGeady is well aware of the problems that have beset his former rivals of late.

“I’m a Celtic fan, so I can’t say I feel much sympathy, but if it was happening to Celtic, of course you would be absolutely gutted,” said McGeady.

“I have got a lot of friends who are Rangers fans, and that is absolutely torture if that’s happening to your team.

“But Rangers are too big a club for them to go under. Obviously, everyone is very, very anxious just now and waiting on the outcome of what’s going to happen, but I can’t see anything worse happening than is happening just now.”

Celtic are now 20 points clear of Rangers and even from afar, McGeady has been impressed with their form this season.

He added, “Celtic have been flying, unbeaten in 19, 20 games and with Rangers falling apart at the minute, if you are a Celtic fan, it’s looking quite good.”

Currently on international duty with Ireland, McGeady is bursting with excitement ahead of the European Championships in Poland this summer.

“I wake up at night dreaming about it,” he added. “You just want to get to a major finals. Now we have to make sure we stay fit and give ourselves the best possible chance to shine at the Euros.

“Everyone is absolutely buzzing for it and still on a high from last November. We are looking forward to the initial gathering at the end of May and then the championships themselves. It is going to be fantastic.

“We weren’t expected to qualify and we did, but now we are there we are going to do everything we can to get out of the group. We are in a very tough group.”

Soccer Shorts

ENGLISHMAN Ian Baraclough is the new manager of Airtricity League title contenders Sligo Rovers. The former Scunthorpe boss succeeds his compatriot Paul Cook. Sligo have added Haiti international Pascal Millien and former Ipswich youngster David Cawley to their squad ahead of Friday night’s kick-off . . .

RICHARD Dunne has been named as Ireland’s Player of the Year for 2011. Darren O’Dea captured the Young Player award and Darron Gibson’s goal against Wales in the Carling Nations Cup was voted the 3 International Goal of the Year.


Tobias Botes of Italy and Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton in action during the match in Dublin on Saturday.Google Images