Ire­land trio will face Six Na­tions bap­tism of fire

Irish Examiner - Sport - - SIX NATIONS -

Ire­land’s Six Na­tions debu­tants must step up

Lock James Ryan, wing Ja­cob Stock­dale, and cen­tre Bundee Aki will all make their tour­na­ment de­buts for Ire­land in the un­for­giv­ing Stade de France at­mos­phere. Cap­tain Rory Best has chal­lenged the trio to step up to the plate and prove their true Test match cre­den­tials, in the bear-pit Paris arena. Amid the bay­ing crowds and fe­ro­cious noise, Best wants the young­sters to keep their heads. How those three stand or fall could play a cru­cial part in Ire­land’s chances.

Rookie fly-half Jal­ib­ert backed to de­liver

Bordeaux Be­gles play­maker Matthieu Jal­ib­ert boasts just 15 ap- pear­ances in France’s Top 14. The un­capped 19-year-old has been thrust into Les Bleus’ start­ing XV nev­er­the­less, given full back­ing by France’s coach­ing staff. A livewire at­tack­ing op­er­a­tor, Jal­ib­ert will be put un­der huge pres­sure by Ire­land’s back-row unit.

Jacques Brunel bids to launch new era

For­mer Italy coach Brunel has taken the helm with France af­ter Guy Noves was sacked in De­cem­ber. Noves turned Toulouse into Europe’s most suc­cess­ful club side, but that crown had slipped some­what by the time he stepped up to the France gig. Les Bleus have strug­gled for some years and have won a Six Na­tions ti­tle since 2010.

Brunel is bid­ding to re­verse those for­tunes and has al­ready made some bold se­lec­tion calls. But the pres­sure is on right from the start. Ire­land’s newly-ex­panded style to come un­der pres­sure Ire­land em­ployed a more at­tack­ing, more con­fi­dent blue­print en route to three-straight vic­to­ries in the Novem­ber Test se­ries. Head coach Joe Sch­midt con­tin­ues to in­sist Ire­land have not ex­panded their game, but quite clearly their at­tack­ing style changed in the au­tumn. If scrum-half Conor Mur­ray and fly-half Johnny Sex­ton pop up across the mid­field again — the way they did in Novem­ber — Ire­land could well dom­i­nate not just this en­counter, but per­haps the tour­na­ment it­self.

France’s pack must step up at Stade de France

The French pack has long since proved a barom­e­ter of Les Bleus’ health, con­fi­dence, and abil­ity. If their for­wards’ heads drop, it is a sure-fire sign the hosts are in trou­ble. That has hap­pened all too of­ten in re­cent years, and al­ways leaves a back­line stacked with tal­ent en­tirely ham­strung, with­out any front-foot ball to ex­ploit. When the French find their fire up front how­ever, they are an en­tirely dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion. If Ire­land sub­due their pack, they can ex­pect the vic­tory.

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