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Six Nations Preview: France vs Ireland

The Six Nations is now firmly upon us, and the curtain raiser could decide the fate of the championship.

France and Ireland have had a duopoly over the tournament in recent years. France won the coveted Grand Slam in 2022, but Andy Farrell’s men repeated this feat last year; but with success comes expectation.

Prior to last autumn’s World Cup, these two were heavy favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy. France had the backing of a nation, and Ireland were world number one, however their hopes were brutally extinguished following quarter-final heartbreak.

Their respective defeats in the last eight also brought about change. For Ireland, they saw talisman fly-half Jonny Sexton hang up his boots, and France’s failure to win a home World Cup has led star scrum-half Antoine Dupont chasing Olympic Sevens glory-with the games taking place in France this year.

The emotional turmoil both teams suffered has left them needing this more than any of the other four sides, and both teams will be licking their lips at the prospect of scratching that itch against their main title rivals. It’s set to be an enthralling encounter, but how will the teams fair tonight?

France

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Fabien Galthié has opted for a heavyweight pack for the game against Ireland, and it could see them bulldoze through Andy Farrell’s men.

Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Uini Atonio form a formidable front-row, and there is yet more power in the engine room Paul Gabrillagues and Paul Willemseas start from the off.

If that wasn’t enough, the back-row sees heavyweights Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon and new skipper Gregory Alldritt named.

Fabian Galthié may have opted for power up front, but his backline looks ready for some real champagne rugby.

Bordeaux duo Maxime Lucu and Matthieu Jalibert have been in fantastic form for their club, and will be looking to lay down a huge marker in the absence of Toulouse counterparts Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.

The centre partnership of Gael Fickou and Jonathan Danty has worked brilliantly for France in the past, and they will be keen to impress again, but it’s the box office back three that take the limelight.

Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud are at the heartbeat of the French attack, and their performances will be crucial to the result tonight. If they play well, France usually win. Bordeaux centre Yoram Moefana starts on the wing in place of clubmate Louis Bielle-Biarrey, but he will again add plenty of quality to his side’s attack, and will try to neutralise the power of James Lowe.

The bench sees a 6/2 split, but all eyes will be on 145kg Posolo Tuilagi (yes, there’s another Tuilagi), who is in line to make his international debut.

Ireland

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Andy Farrell’s men face a tough challenge in Marseille, but they have some real quality across the park.

Leinster front-row Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong will look to bring their usual abrasiveness around the park. Joe McCarthy comes in for James Ryan, but he will link up with the experienced Tadhg Beirne in the second-row, but the back-row is Ireland’s real strength.

Skipper Peter O’Mahony leads the side from blindside flanker, and he links up with former World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris.

Ireland also have an X-factor backline ready to go toe to toe with their French counterparts. Jamison Gibson-Park will look to bring his usual brilliance tonight, but all eyes will be on Jack Crowley at fly-half, as he looks to nail down the shirt in the absence of Sexton.

Bundee Aki will look to punch holes in the French defence, and Robbie Henshaw is given the nod at 13. James Lowe and Hugo Keenan are at the heartbeat of this Irish attack, and they again start. Calvin Nash has big boots to fill following Mack Hansen’s injury, but he will be keen to make a mark.

Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan and Conor Murray form an experienced bench for Ireland tonight.

Teams in full:

France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana; Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Uini Atonio; Paul Gabrillagues, Paul Willemse; Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt (C).

Replacements: Julien Marchand, Reda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Posolo Tuilagi, Cameron Woki, Paul Boudehent, Nolann Le Garrec, Louis Bielle-Biarrey.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (C), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ciarán Frawley.