France throw teen flyhalf into furnace for Six Nations opener

by AFP

Teenager Matthieu Jalibert can "handle" his France debut after coach Jacques Brunel picked him on Thursday to play in Saturday's Six Nations opener against tournament favourites Ireland.

After the inexperienced 19-year-old fly-half's surprise call-up to new coach Brunel's first squad, Jalibert has been thrust straight into the lion's den at the Stade de France by his former coach at Bordeaux-Begles.

"From the moment we thought he was up to playing at this level there was no reason not to pick him," said Brunel of a player who has made just 15 senior appearances since his Bordeaux debut in September.

"We think he's able to handle this role."Matthieu Jalibert will make his debut in Paris. Photo: Getty ImagesAnd Brunel is sure that Jalibert, who says he wants to emulate England's Andy Farrell, will have no problem dealing the intensity the Irish will no doubt bring to the Stade de France cauldron.

"I think he's settled and well integrated into the group," added Brunel.

"He's got his bearings. Any nerves he might have had would have been when he was selected (for the squad two weeks ago) because that's when everyone took an interest in him.

"Now he's settled in the group and knew he was challenging for a start, or a least a place on the bench.

"So he can't be unsure of himself, I think he has the necessary maturity.

"Of course, he'll have to prepare a bit because I'm sure the Irish will have looked at the videos and asked 'who's this guy, what can he do?'"

On the other side of the fence, Young Irish lock James Ryan has been handed a vote of confidence by being selected to play France in Paris on Saturday in what will be his Six Nations debut.James Ryan gets the nod at lock. Photo: AFPThe 21-year-old - who made his Test debut last summer even before he had played for the Leinster senior team - is preferred to the veteran Devin Toner and will partner Iain Henderson in the second row.

There are great expectations for Ryan, a former Ireland Under-20 captain, with murmurings that he is destined to skipper the senior side one day.

Head coach Joe Schmidt also brought back a couple of players who missed the three Test wins last November.

Keith Earls will win his 64th cap on the wing while flanker Josh van der Flier fills the considerable vacuum left by the injured British & Irish Lions star Sean O'Brien.

The side will be once again captained by the vastly-experienced hooker Rory Best who wins his 107th cap.

The world class half-back pairing of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, with almost 130 caps between them, have far more experience than their French counterparts, Maxime Machenaud, 31 caps, and 19-year-old Jalibert who is making his debut.

Schimdt is bidding to secure his third Six Nations crown after winning in 2014 and 2015, but the Grand Slam has eluded him so far.

The Irish will start as warm favourites to record only their third win in Paris in the last 40 years as the hosts under new coach Jacques Brunel seek to end a run of six Tests without a win.


France team to face Ireland

1. Jefferson Poirot

2. Guilhem Guirado (C)

3. Rabah Slimani

4. Arthur Iturria

5. Sebastien Vahaamahina

6. Wenceslas Lauret

7. Yacouba Camara

8. Kevin Gourdon

9. Maxime Machenaud

10. Matthieu Jalibert

11. Virimi Vakatawa

12. Remi Lamerat

13. Henry Chavancy

14. Teddy Thomas

15. Geoffrey Palis


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 team to face France

1. Cian Healy

2. Rory Best (C)

3. Tadhg Furlong

4. Iain Henderson

5. James Ryan

6. Peter O'Mahony

7. Josh van der Flier

8. CJ Stander

9. Conor Murray

10. Johnny Sexton

11. Jacob Stockdale

12. Bundee Aki

13. Robbie Henshaw

14. Keith Earls

15. Rob Kearney


16. Sean Cronin

17. Jack McGrath

18. John Ryan

19. Devin Toner

20. Dan Leavy

21. Luke McGrath

22. Joey Carbery

23. Fergus McFadden