World Rugby

France Vs. Ireland: A Guinness Six Nations Power Clash To Unfold

France Vs. Ireland: A Guinness Six Nations Power Clash To Unfold

Anticipating a clash of titans, Ireland faces France in the 2024 Guinness Six Nations opener, with squads poised for a power struggle in Round 1.

Jan 31, 2024 by Philip Bendon
France Vs. Ireland: A Guinness Six Nations Power Clash To Unfold

Friday night’s opening Guinness Six Nations clash between reigning champion Ireland and powerhouse France has presented rugby fans with an interesting paradox. 

What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? Deriving from the ancient Chinese metaphor of a perfect spear that can pierce all shields and a perfect shield that stops all spears. 

Pitting French flair against a methodical Irish attack has been the tale of the rivalry between these two nations over the past four seasons. Yet, when the two sides take to the Stade Vélodrome on Friday evening, there will be an altogether different feel about the fixture. 

Key Battle

Steering away from their traditional game of cat and mouse, head coaches Fabian Galthie and Andy Farrell have selected squads capable of inflicting blunt force trauma on one another. 

Kicking off the action with two gargantuan packs, the two coaches have opted to employ a 6-2 split on the bench to ensure there will be no physical let off as the match progresses. 

For the French, power is nothing new, given the sheer scale of the athletes available to Galthie. 

For Farrell, there is no doubt his squad packs a punch of its own. The progress of Leinster second row Joe McCarthy over the past 12 months offers the men in green a physical specimen unlike any in Irish Rugby history. 

Still just 22 years old, McCarthy has displaced a presumed future Irish captain, James Ryan, in the starting lineup for what likely will be Ireland’s most challenging fixture of the Championship. 

This decision alone signals that Farrell has taken the route of layering on what has been built over the past four years, rather than blowing up a system that came within four points of a first Rugby World Cup semifinal.

 Shifting Ryan to the bench is not a knock on one of Ireland’s key players of the past six years, but more an acknowledgement that McCarthy looks set to be the cornerstone of the Irish pack for the next decade. 

Packing down alongside turnover maestro Tadhg Beirne, McCarthy gives the Irish pack the perfect 1-2 punch of a player who will do the dirty work with big carries and hitting rucks, and a second (Beirne) who uses his outlandish athleticism in the loose. 

Mimicking the starting pair, Ryan is the perfect physical replacement for McCarthy, while Ryan Baird will link up as the rangy athlete in place of either Beirne or captain Peter O’Mahony in the back row. 

Galthie, who named his side hours before Farrell, is dealing with a mini-injury crisis in the pack but still is in the enviable position of being able to call on several behemoth options. 

Front and center will be the returning Paul Willemse, who cruelly missed out on the World Cup due to injury but is back in the No. 5 shirt, alongside the equally powerful Paul Gabrillagues.

On the bench, Romain Taofifénua will be a like-for-like replacement for Willemse, while the uber-athletic Cameron Woki will bring his explosive and rangy power to the proceedings as a counter to Baird. 

This battle in the engine room of the pack will decide the fate of the team’s packs, given the relative parity across the front and back rows of both sides. In each of the six positions, there is an argument to be made that the player occupying the shirt is among the top three in the world. 

At No. 8, there is no more than a hair separating the wrecking ball duo of Gregory Alldritt and Caelen Doris, who are their respective team’s go-forward machines. 

Both players are capable of taking the average ball over the gain line and immediately transforming their team’s attacking outlook. However, this task will be made easier should the giants in front of them do the dirty work. 

New Beginnings Outback 

In the backline, there is a state of flux in terms of the key playmakers in the No. 9 and No. 10 shirts. 

Of the four starters, only Jamison Gibson-Park was the first choice the last time these two sides met. 

Absent are the iconic duo of Johnny Sexton (retirement) and Antoine Dupont (chasing Olympic glory in rugby 7s), while Romain Ntamack remains in the trainers room rehabbing a nasty injury sustained in the World Cup warm-ups. 

In their place come Jack Crowley of Munster and Bordeaux’s duo of Maxime Lucu and Mathieu Jalibert. 

Starting with the 24-year-old Crowley, who has the unenviable task of replacing Ireland’s greatest player in Sexton, what the former Bandon Grammar star lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in temperament, ability and hunger to succeed. Make no bones about it. However, the nine-times-capped pivot is set to experience a baptism of fire in Marseille. 

Standing opposite Crowley, Jalibert will be looking to establish himself further as France’s top choice fly-half ahead of Ntamack’s return later this season. Just one year Crowley’s senior, Jalibert already has racked up 30 test caps for Les Bleus and will be unfazed by being the man in the spotlight. 

Such has been the dominance of Dupont in the blue No. 9 shirt over the past six years that the now 31-year-old Lucu has just 18 test caps to his name. There is no shame in playing second fiddle to someone who could well be the greatest player of all time when it is all said and done. 

What it does mean, however, is that while Lucu is immensely talented, he has never had to direct a team from the off in a crucial test match, a fact of which his opposite number, Gibson-Park, will be acutely aware. 

These mini-battles inside a greater war will be crucial to the outcome of Friday’s contest. Should either team gain the ascendancy up front, then the new look halfback pairings will struggle to bring in their exciting outside backs. 

Both center partnerships are immensely experienced and will guide their playmakers, but this will be an immensely challenging task without clean ball. The same can be said for the back three of both teams who, in an interesting way, mirror one another. 

In green, Hugo Keenan and James Lowe are fixtures on match-day squads, while the once-capped Calvin Nash will be looking to grasp his opportunity with Mack Hansen and Jimmy O’Brien on the injury list. 

Facing them are a duo of experienced operators, Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud, with the newcomer to the wide channels being regular center Yoram Moefana. 

Like their center colleagues, the wide men will be hoping for a front-foot ball to create some magic. 


This fixture will come down to who blinks first. Both sides have so much to prove having let slip a golden opportunity at World Cup glory.

As discussed above, the power game will decide who gives that crucial inch. In this department, there is little to choose between the two sides. 

Across the backline, parity once again exists, given the new-look nature of the crucial playmaking positions of No. 9 and No. 10. 

In this instance, home advantage could prove to be the difference with the notoriously boisterous French fans whooping and hollering at every opportunity. Harness this, and the French will be a tough nut to crack. Slip up early, and the home support could become hostile toward its team. 

Ultimately, this will be the tightest of contests this season between the presumed top two sides. Turning the page on two devastating evenings in Paris, France will edge this by two points, but both sides will look impressive. France by two points.

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