Preview: France v Ireland

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 06:52

SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: France will host the World Cup in five years' time and coach Jacques Brunel appeared to have one eye on that objective with his team selection for the season-opening clash against Ireland on Saturday.

The veteran handler plumped for teenage flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert, a player to whom he handed a senior debut at Bordeaux-Begles less than five months ago before he was hired as France coach - following the hurried sacking of Guy Noves in December.

While the French selectors will hope Brunel's appointment brings about a change in playing fortunes, the 64-year-old seems to have maintained a search begun by Noves during his ill-fated two-year spell in charge: the quest to find a French equivalent of Jonny Wilkinson or Dan Carter.

At just 19 and with only 15 senior appearances under his belt, Jalibert appears to be a choice for the future despite Brunel's insistence he wants to try and win the 2018 Six Nations title.

And even if he doesn't turn out to be as good as a Wilkinson or Carter, Brunel believes Jalibert could at least emulate versatile former international utility back Frederick Michalak, a player who made his France debut 16 years ago, just a month after turning 19.
"Remember a certain Michalak, for whom everything went very quickly," said Brunel.

"It's a bit surprising: we're not used to this kind of professional trajectory whereas the English picked [Owen] Farrell and [George] Ford very early.

"They didn't ask questions, they gave them belief. We're going to try to provide him (Jalibert) with the same conditions and we hope he'll succeed in the same way as those I've just mentioned."

It continues a trend in France over the last year in which a number of talented young half-backs have been thrust onto the international arena.

Baptiste Serin was 22 when he spent most of last year's Six Nations as first choice scrum-half before giving way to 20-year-old Antoine Dupont in November.

One of Noves's last acts was to align a stunningly young and inexperienced half-back pair against world champions New Zealand in November, as 21-year-old Anthony Belleau lined up outside Dupont -- the French were thumped 38-18.

Both will be on the bench against Ireland as hopes are pinned on Jalibert's young shoulders, although Brunel has opted to select 29-year-old Maxime Machenaud as his half-back partner.

"It's about balance because putting Matthieu Jalibert at flyhalf, there's an obvious inexperience in that respect," added Brunel.

"We're sure he'll manage but nevertheless we need someone with experience who can take the game by the scruff of the neck, bring a bit of balance to our initiatives and reassure [Jalibert]."

And Brunel gave short shrift to suggestions his side could be on a hiding to nothing.

"I'm very happy that we're no good, useless, rubbish, considered the fifth best [above only Italy] in the competition. That suits me very well," he said defiantly.

For their part, Ireland will be targeting the young playmaker, although British and Irish Lions flanker Christiaan Stander insists there would be nothing unusual about that regardless.

"He plays a good game, he's a very exciting player and he tries anything from everywhere," said the Munster back-row forward.
"So, from our side, you've to make sure you get in his face and make sure you get off the line every time."

But Stander added: "We try to do that with all the flyhalves we play against!

"If he's good enough, and he gets the chance and he can grab it, it's great for them to back him and let him play now."

France has won only one of their last seven matches against Ireland, who are lining up a starting XV with more than twice as many caps as their hosts.

Players to watch:

For France: You simply have to start with teenage flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert. He will have a substantial portion of the spotlight shining on him. Hopefully, he has a mature-enough head on his shoulders to cope with the pressure. The other key player in the French backline is scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, who will have the responsibility of providing the young man on his outside with the quality of service that will allow him to stamp himself on the game.

For Ireland: James Ryan, in for seasoned Devin Toner in the second row, will have to step up in a game where it could get rough, even brutal. Flyhalf Johnny Sexton is always earmarked for some special attention by the opposition - because he is such a key player in their set-up.

Head to head: It is said it starts up front, as you need possession. Let's assume the teams will have 'parity' up front. That means it is at halfback where the game will be won or lost - the new French combination of Matthieu Jalibert (flyhalf) and Maxime Machenaud (scrumhalf) against the seasoned duo of Johnny Sexton (No.10) and Conor Murray (No.9). The other intriguing battle will be in the front row - where the grizzled pair of (hookers and both captains as well) Guilhem Guirado  (France) and Rory Best (Ireland) will have to make some crucial calls - apart from their usual roles in the game.

Recent results:
2017: Ireland won 19-9, Dublin
2016: France 10-9, Paris
2015: Ireland won 24-9, Cardiff (World Cup pool match)
2015: Ireland won 18-11, Dublin
2014: Ireland won 22-20, Paris
2013: France and drew Ireland 13-all, Dublin
2012: France and Ireland drew 17-all, Paris
2011: France won 26-22, Dublin
2011: France won 19-12, Bordeaux
2011: France won 25-22, Dublin

Prediction: Ireland has an established squad, with quality in all departments. The French have a new coach, who has given a hint of experimentation with his first squad. There is no doubt Ireland are favourites, but we think it will finish inside a single score.


France: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelissie, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Marco Tauleigne, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Benjamin Fall.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 John Ryan, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Date: Saturday, February 3
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 17.45 (16.45 UK and Ireland time; 16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Cloudy with spotty showers. High of  5°C and a low of 1°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com


There are currently no matches being played
Fri, 27 April 2018
Hurricanes v Sunwolves 07h35 Wellington
Stormers v Rebels 13h00 Newlands
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons 18h45 Welford Road
Sat, 28 April 2018
Reds v Lions 05h05 Suncorp Stadium
Blues v Jaguares 07h35 Eden Park
Brumbies v Crusaders 09h45 Canberra
Kings v Cheetahs 13h00 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks 14h00 Sandy Park
Worcester Warriors v Harlequins 14h00 Sixways
Gloucester v Bath 14h00 Kingsholm
Connacht v Leinster 14h05 Sportsground
Dragons v Scarlets 14h05 Rodney Parade
Bulls v Highlanders 15h15 Loftus Versfeld
Treviso v Zebre 16h00 Stadio Monigo
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys 16h35 Cardiff Arms Park
Munster v Ulster 16h35 Thomond Park
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors 18h35 Myreside
Sun, 29 April 2018
London Irish v Saracens 14h00 Madejski Stadium
Wasps v Northampton Saints 14h00 Ricoh Arena
Sun, 22 April 2018
Racing Metro v Munster 27 | 22
Brumbies v Jaguares 20 | 25
Sat, 21 April 2018
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors 36 | 15
Zebre v Ospreys 37 | 14
Sharks v Stormers 24 | 17
Leinster v Scarlets 38 | 16
Bulls v Rebels 28 | 10
Reds v Chiefs 12 | 36
Crusaders v Sunwolves 33 | 11
Fri, 20 April 2018
Waratahs v Lions 0 | 29
Blues v Highlanders 16 | 34
Sun, 15 April 2018
Saracens v Bath 41 | 6
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs 5 | 45
Sat, 14 April 2018
Leinster v Treviso 15 | 17
Kings v Cardiff Blues 12 | 45
Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 5 5 0 0 26
Wales 5 3 0 2 15
Scotland 5 3 0 2 13
France 5 2 0 3 11
England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1