Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale are included in the Ireland team that will face France on Saturday in the opening round of Six Nations fixtures.
Captain Best starts at hooker alongside Cian Healy who is rewarded for his fine form and Tadhg Furlong starting at loose head prop and tight head prop respectively. Joe Schmidt has made a big call in the second row as James Ryan partners Iain Henderson. Devin Toner starts on the bench. Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier are the flankers while CJ Stander starts at No.8.
It’s the familiar half back pairing of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton while Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw are the centres. Jacob Stockdale starts on his familiar left wing while Keith Earls starts on the right. The ever-present figure of Rob Kearney starts at fullback.
Toner is joined on the bench by Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, John Ryan, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery and Fergus McFadden. In particular, Leavy will be crucial when the game enters its final embers while there is a welcomed call-up for Fergus McFadden who not only provides versatility, but is also in a rich vein of form. McGrath is a great option to have as a replacement and shows that Ireland have great depth at loose head prop.
It’s not too often Ireland are favourites when playing France, never mind at the Stade de France. It’s a formidable team that Joe Schmidt has named for the opening round and many people cite this match as Ireland’s toughest game before the showdown against England at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day. There’s a sense of deja vu in the run up to this match. Ireland were expected to defeat Scotland last year and the face off against England for the Grand Slam, but fell at the first hurdle and then lost against Wales a few weeks later.
Newly appointed French coach, Jacques Brunel has put his faith in teenage Bordeaux-Begles out half, Matthieu Jalibert to start on Saturday. Jalibert has impressed in his first season of senior rugby, he has scored 113 points for his club so far this season. He was handed his first start at out half for his club by Brunel when he was coaching at the Bordeaux side in November in that bonkers match between Toulouse and Bordeaux-Begles in which his almost snatched a victory after being 24-3 down after 16 minutes. Jalibert missed a kick from 40m to seal the win for his side. The former France U-20 star has great acceleration and has featured at fullback for his club.
Geoffrey Palis of Castres is the only other new cap in the French side and he starts at full back. Dany Priso caused the Ulster scrum all sorts of problems when his La Rochelle side met Ulster in the Champions Cup this season. His exceptional performances have done him enough to warrant a place on the bench. Remi Lamerat is an abrasive runner and locks horns against Robbie Henshaw while Teddy Thomas has the difficult challenge of facing Jacob Stockdale.
I am fairly certain that Schmidt will have reminded the Irish players that France are unpredictable and while they can collapse – as they did in their summer series in South Africa – they also have the players to play fantastic running rugby.
The FRU predicts: Ireland’s task won’t be made any easier by the Stade de France crowd. The away side are narrow favourites but I think this new-look French side has flair and home advantage means I am siding towards a narrow French win.
|Geoffrey Palis||15||Rob Kearney|
|Teddy Thomas||14||Keith Earls|
|Rémi Lamerat||13||Robbie Henshaw|
|Henry Chavancy||12||Bundee Aki|
|Virimi Vakatawa||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Matthieu Jalibert||10||Jonathan Sexton|
|Maxime Machenaud||9||Conor Murray|
|Jefferson Poirot||1||Cian Healy|
|Guilhem Guirado ©||2||Rory Best ©|
|Rabah Slimani||3||Tadhg Furlong|
|Sébastien Vahaamahina||4||Iain Henderson|
|Arthur Iturria||5||James Ryan|
|Wenceslas Lauret||6||Peter O’Mahony|
|Yacouba Camara||7||Josh van der Flier|
|Kévin Gourdon||8||CJ Stander|
|Adrien Pelissié||16||Sean Cronin|
|Dany Priso||17||Jack McGrath|
|Cedate Gomes Sa||18||John Ryan|
|Paul Gabrillagues||19||Devin Toner|
|Marco Tauleigne||20||Dan Leavy|
|Antoine Dupont||21||Luke McGrath|
|Anthony Belleau||22||Joey Carbery|
|Benjamin Fall||23||Fergus McFadden|