France's Jalibert faces Ireland after three-year road to redemption

Illtud DAFYDD
·3 min read

Three years is a long time in Test rugby. South Africa have won a World Cup, three different teams have won the Six Nations and France have become a force once again under Fabien Galthie.

For Les Bleus fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, it signifies the period between his two starts against Ireland, who he faces again in Dublin this Sunday.

As a 19-year-old he made his Test debut against Johnny Sexton's men in February 2018 to become the youngest outside-half to wear the No. 10 jersey for his country in the annual competition -- but it lasted less than half an hour.

The ligament tear sustained in a tackle with 101kg centre Bundee Aki sidelined him for 14 months.

"As everyone saw, injuries never happen at a right time, he was a young player when he was injured," France attack coach Laurent Labit said this week.

"It served him well as it sped up his maturity," he added.

Jalibert, who turned 22 in November, missed out on selection for the World Cup in Japan as the national side bowed out in the quarter-finals.

He remained focused on club duty with Bordeaux-Begles, as coach Christophe Urios put faith in him as his first-choice stand-off in just Jalibert's third senior campaign.

"We see it now, he expresses himself fully with his club, who are on the up," Labit said.

"At Bordeaux-Begles he is the playmaker, he leads the team," the former Racing 92 coach added.

- 'Got it all' -

His domestic form was rewarded last February as Galthie named him on the bench for the victory over England at the Stade de France -- a day shy of two years after his collision with Aki on the same pitch.

The starting jersey would remain on the back of Toulouse's Romain Ntamack for the remainder of the tournament before Jalibert was handed a run-on spot for November's Autumn Nations Cup win at Scotland.

He benefited from an agreement between the French rugby federation and the league capping the match list appearances for players during the campaign, scoring 20 points in three Tests to end the calendar year in Ntamack's absence.

Jalibert has kept the shirt for this Six Nations after Ntamack suffered a double jaw fracture in December.

"To compare them would be an error. They're different and they've both got superb qualities," Toulouse and France hooker Julien Marchand said on Tuesday.

"They excel every weekend with their clubs. So I think comparing them would not do them justice."

This weekend, Jalibert makes his first appearance at the Aviva Stadium against a familiar foe and has the full backing of his coaches and team-mates.

"There's big competition there, we're lucky to have very good fly-halves in France as part of this generation," centre Gael Fickou said on Thursday.

"It's a bonus for us. He's someone who has improved enormously in many sectors of the game.

"Attacking-wise he's very good, defensively too, he's pretty much got it all."

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