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No Sexton, no problem – Ireland look ominously good in Six Nations victory over France

Dan Sheehan try - France vs Ireland result: Six Nations defending champions look ominously good

This Six Nations opener was billed as the World Cup final that never was. A battle between the northern hemisphere’s two genuinely world-class teams.

One suspects had it in fact taken place in Paris on the night of October 28, Ireland would not have had such an easy time of it.

Andy Farrell’s men got their Six Nations title defence off to a flyer at the Stade Velodrome, starting life post-Johnny Sexton in perfect fashion with their biggest ever win in France, a five-try demolition job. Jack Crowley, the 24-year-old who has stepped into Sexton’s sizeable size 10s, was superb, growing into the game after a shaky start. If anything he looked even more creative than the man he has replaced.

But if the question was which of these two teams had more effectively shaken off their World Cup hangover, France suggested they were still wearing beer goggles. This was a wretched performance from Fabien Galthié’s men. Paul Willemse’s idiotic first-half red card, for separate high tackles, did not help. But Ireland were much the better team even before that. Even captain and talisman Antoine Dupont, off on his sevens sabbatical, might not have been able to inspire France. Stand-in captain Grégory Alldritt looked absolutely forlorn in the post-match press conference.

Jack Crowley of Ireland in action against Jonathan Danty of France during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between France and Ireland at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France
Jack Crowley had Johnny Sexton-sized shoes to fill – and did so impressively - Getty Images/Ramsey Cardy

With a raucous crowd inside the Stade Velodrome, and a Friday night game which meant Ireland could only count on maybe a quarter of the 40-50,000 strong ‘Zombie Army’ that attended the World Cup weekends, the omens at the start were not particularly good for Farrell’s men.

Ireland had only ever won three times in France in 52 years heading into the match, with all three of those wins coming by precisely two points, the last of them requiring a miracle from Sexton; that famous 83rd-minute drop goal from 45 metres in Paris which set Ireland up for the Grand Slam in 2018. That was the opening game of that year’s tournament, too. Perhaps another Grand Slam is written in the stars for Farrell’s men?

Ireland certainly look as if they are going to be hard to beat. Joe McCarthy, on his Six Nations debut, was a towering presence, scooping the Player of the Match award; Tadhg Beirne was razor sharp on both sides of the ball; Caelan Doris repeatedly smashed through the ranks of blue.

Ireland's Joe McCarthy is tackled by France's Maxime Lucu during the Guinness Six Nations match at the Orange Velodrome in Marseille, France
Joe McCarthy was a beast in Marseille - PA Wire/Andrew Matthews

Behind the scrum, Jamison Gibson-Park was an ever-present threat, Bundee Aki kept up his World Cup form, Hugo Keenan was rock solid as always, while debutant Calvin Nash looked sharp.

As for Crowley, he grew into the game after Alldritt charged down his early chip. He missed one easy kick from in front of the posts. But he kept trying things. By the end – and he played the full 80 minutes – he was directing affairs like a veteran. “Jack Crowley is an absolute baller,” McCarthy said, approvingly, afterwards. “Such a competitor. A great man to lead the group. Delighted for him. He drove us around the pitch.”

Farrell agreed. “Everyone’s been talking all week, quite rightly, about Johnny,” Ireland’s head coach noted. “It definitely creeps in. You’d be a liar if you said it didn’t. But I thought his composure at the line was great. He made some really nice decisions, and some poor ones as well. He’ll know that better than anyone. But the strength of character, when he missed the one in front of goal, knocking two over from the sideline shows immense character.”

France actually began the game quite well. After that early Alldritt charge-down, a poor James Lowe clearance allowed the hosts some space to attack and Matthieu Jalibert set off on a mazy run which might have ended in a try for Damian Penaud had Gaël Fickou not released his winger fractionally early.

But Ireland soon hit their straps. Crowley put the visitors 3-0 up after France strayed offside on their own five-metre line. And with Willemse in the sin-bin following his first yellow, Ireland scored their first try, Aki releasing Gibson-Park with an excellent wraparound pass after a fine build-up involving the increasingly confident Crowley.

The Munster youngster then blotted his copybook, missing an easy kick from 30 metres out straight in front of the posts. It looked as if France might make Ireland pay, Thomas Ramos converting a penalty to make it 10-3. But Ireland were unfazed, and after a barnstorming run from Doris, Crowley put Beirne through a hole with a glorious delayed pass for Ireland’s second try.

France were in disarray and things went from bad to worse after Willemse was sent off, this time for a high tackle on Doris.

Penaud’s try just before half-time made it 17-10. But Ireland picked up where they left off in the second half. Right wing Nash went over in the ‘wrong’ corner, which Farrell particularly enjoyed.

And after Paul Gabrillagues’s close-range try, awarded after a long TMO delay, briefly raised hopes of a France comeback – particularly with Peter O’Mahony seeing yellow for collapsing a maul in the build-up – Ireland finished the match with two more. Dan Sheehan and his replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher both going over. Crowley converted both from way out. Johnny who?

Scoring sequence: 0-3 Crowley pen, 0-8 Gibson-Park try, 0-10 Crowley con, 3-10 Ramos pen, 3-15 Beirne try, 3-17 Crowley con, 8-17 Penaud try, 10-17 Ramos con, HT, 10-22 Nash try, 10-24 Crowley con, 15-24 Gabrillagues try, 17-24 Ramos con, 17-29 Sheehan try, 17-31 Crowley con, 17-36 Kelleher try, 17-38 Crowley con.

France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty (L Bielle-Biarrey 64), Y Moefana; M Jalibert, M Lucu (N -Le Garrec 64); C Baille (R Wardi 52-70), P Mauvaka (J Marchand 52), U Atonio (D Aldegheri 52), P Gabrillagues (P Tuilagi 52), P Willemse, F Cros (P Boudehent 64), C Ollivon (C Woki 64), G Alldritt (c). Sin-bin Willemse. Sent off Willemse.

Ireland: H Keenan (C Frawley 79); C Nash, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Lowe; J Crowley, J Gibson-Park (C Murray 70); A Porter (C Healy 9-19, 64), D Sheehan (R Kelleher 64), T Furlong (F Bealham 64), J McCarthy (J Ryan 64), T Beirne, P O’Mahony (c, R Baird 64), J van der Flier (J Conan 64), C Doris. Sin-bin O’Mahony.

Referee K Dickson (England)


Ireland dominate France in Six Nations opener, as it happened


11:23 PM GMT

And that's a wrap

A superb night for Ireland which sets an ominous tone for everyone else in the championship. France were poor and that will have left them reeling, but even so, what an effort from Andy Farrell’s side in a record-breaking win.

And in other news...guess who was on hand to watch his nephew make his debut for France.

Manu Tuilagi
Manu Tuilagi was in Marseille to watch his nephew, Posolo, make his France debut - ITV Sport

11:23 PM GMT

McCarthy shares moment

After a phenomenal display on Six Nations debut, Ireland lock Joe McCarthy gifted his player of the match medal to his brother.

In touching scenes at full-time, McCarthy sought out his family to deliver the medal to Andrew, who has Down’s Syndrome, with the pair posing for a photograph after the final whistle in Marseille.

“It was hard to miss him there,” McCarthy said. “He was looking like a leprechaun in the crowd.”

Joe McCarthy of Ireland gives his man of the match award to his brother Andrew after his side's victory in the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between France and Ireland at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France
Joe McCarthy of Ireland gives his man of the match award to his brother Andrew after his side's victory in the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between France and Ireland at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France

10:25 PM GMT

Player ratings from Marseille

A quick teaser for you:

4. Joe McCarthy - 9/10

5. Paul Willemse - ?/10


10:21 PM GMT

Ireland coach Andy Farrell

Well any time you win here, especially on a Friday night to start the Six Nations is going to be a hard task. To get a bonus-point win is special. I was proud of the performance. Against 14 men the tendency can be to shut up shop. We played for the 80 minutes and got what we deserved in the end.

These are young guys who have been in and around the squad for the last couple of years, so we know what they’re capable of from training. Some of them, their form guarantees that they’re going to be in. It’s a 23-man game and those youngsters are able to be themselves and confident because of how they make each other feel as a squad.


10:17 PM GMT

Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony

It’s hard to sum up. A serious Test match. Very proud of the lads with our control of the game. Cool under certain decisions, composed. Got a bit frantic with the last 10 minutes down to 14 with my yellow card but we stuck to the plan the whole time. I thought it was a good start.

A big chunk of it was the young fellas, Nash, Jack, big Joe. Some big performances from guys getting an opportunity.

We had a more clinical edge at times, we let a couple of opportunities go, some silly penalties on our part. Against sides as good as France, opportunities don’t come around very much. More often than not, we took them.


10:04 PM GMT

Data insights from Sage


10:03 PM GMT

Player of the match Joe McCarthy

Look, we’re very happy. It’s never easy away in France. We probably didn’t expect to get such a high score but really happy, the atmosphere is mental. Everyone dug in and it was a fantastic team performance.

Our set-piece went well, we won our lineout ball and got a good strike off that. We were in sync.

Jack Crowley is an absolute baller, such a competitor. A great man to lead the group. Delighted for him, he drove us around the pitch.

France are never dead, when they chuck the ball they can make something out of nothing. We just had to keep going after them.


09:56 PM GMT

FULL-TIME! France 17-38 Ireland

It ends fittingly, Ireland poaching a French lineout. Genuinely one of the great Irish performances with France way, way off the pace. What a statement.

Ireland celebrate one of their second-half maul tries in Marseille
Ireland celebrate one of their second-half maul tries in Marseille - SPORTSFILE

09:53 PM GMT

TRY KELLEHER! France 17-38 Ireland

Ireland’s maul delivers again. France with no answer as Kelleher finishes it off, Lowe getting involved too.That’s the most points Ireland have ever scored against France in a Test. Crowley converts.

It’s also Ireland’s biggest-ever win in France.


09:50 PM GMT

76 mins - France 17-31 Ireland

Ireland’s turn now to try and crack France open, Crowley with a low kick which is easily fielded before France clear. Very assured performance from the No 10.

Fickou is offside in front of the kicker - know France are knackered but they’ve given up some easy penalties - with Crowley going to the corner.


09:47 PM GMT

71 mins - France 17-31 Ireland

Baille has to come back on with Wardi taking a knock. France trying and probing and doing everything to crack this Irish defence, but with no joy as they force a knock-on.

Have to say, Le Garrec looks sharp.


09:42 PM GMT

70 mins - France 17-31 Ireland

Penaud hasn’t been perfect but that was a cracking run and pass to put France on the attack, but the kick by Ramos is a poor choice and Ireland survive. France not themselves, which is a compliment to Ireland but also says a lot perhaps about the absence of both Dupont and Ntamack at half-back.


09:39 PM GMT

67 mins - France 17-31 Ireland

Both sides ringing the changes as Le Garrec, on for Lucu, wins a turnover. Not been overly impressed with Lucu and his control of the game, maybe the youngster starts at Murrayfield?

Penaud now knocks on, Fickou’s pass a touch high and Ireland’s defence applying pressure. Feels like game over even with 12 minutes left.

Ireland also narrowly short of a team record:


09:33 PM GMT

TRY SHEEHAN! France 17-31 Ireland

Huge call by Crowley, going for the corner and Ireland chasing the bonus point.

But the huge call pays off! Sheehan finishes off the maul in the corner! France didn’t contest and Ireland hit the power so hard on the left it caught France by surprise. Too easy. Crowley nails another conversion.


09:27 PM GMT

60 mins - France 17-24 Ireland

Brilliant defensive read from Lowe shuts down a Danty pass and earns Ireland a scrum (not sure they want one after the last few minutes to be fair). Ireland will take though, a free-kick with France slightly too eager. Crowley sends up a high kick - Ireland by the way trying to slow things down whenever they can to get O’Mahony back on the field - and Penaud drops it!

Ireland attacking in France’s 22 but then having to scamper back after a pass goes to ground. Penalty coming for Ireland, obstruction off the ball. Now another for offside. Ireland five metres out, a score feels imminent... back for the penalty against Penaud for offside.


09:26 PM GMT

Data insights from Sage


09:26 PM GMT

55 mins - France 17-24 Ireland

The front row changes aren’t changing the scrum - France are absolutely on top in that area. Another penalty. Danty, the centre, is helping out at the scrum and doing a great job.


09:19 PM GMT

TRY GABRILLAGUES! France 17-24 Ireland

Oh, France need something here alright. Another penalty coming as France are denied by millimetres. Dickson wants a chat with his TMO. There might be a grounding by Gabrillagues, they’re going to have a look. O’Mahony collapsed that maul is going to be shown a yellow card.

As for the possible try, it’s a tight call and taking a while. The TMO doesn’t have enough evidence to overrule Dickson’s belief there was a grounding, so that’s a try! France back within a score and Ireland down to 14.

Posolo Tuilagi, Manu’s nephew, is on for his Test debut.


09:18 PM GMT

Latest from Paul Willemse, sorry, Charles Richardson

A mildly amusing moment at half time here. For those that aren’t aware, I am tall and somewhat big boned. I nipped to the loo at the interval and a French journalist mistook me for Paul Willemse. When he realised that I was not, in fact, the French lock who had just been sent off, he cried: “I thought it was a bit odd that he got changed so quickly!”


09:17 PM GMT

51 mins - France 10-24 Ireland

French crowd not happy after Fickou knocked on in the air and France were penalised for offside, wanted a penalty for him being played in the air... and after Ireland had kicked to the corner, now the TMO gives it and France do get their penalty on halfway, before they punt it to touch deep in Ireland’s half.


09:12 PM GMT

TRY NASH! France 10-24 Ireland

Good breakdown work from Porter and Ireland are back on the attack, Aki with more brilliant work in the loose. Another great run from McCarthy, he’s in red hot form. Henshaw with a great run and he then somehow gets an offload away to Doris, who feeds Nash to put him in the corner! Ireland’s third try and their attack has been magnificent. Crowley with a superb touchline conversion.


09:07 PM GMT

42 mins - France 10-17 Ireland

From a lineout France get a maul rumbling, but that’s a soft penalty against McCarthy for coming through the maul the wrong way. Ramos lining up a shot, and he misses wide to the right, narrowly.


09:05 PM GMT

Right, time for the second half

Doesn’t look like any changes. Very intrigued whether France can keep that late momentum from the first half going.

For the official record, Willemse’s second yellow card would have been a red. Not his best night to say the least.


09:01 PM GMT

Data insights from Sage


08:58 PM GMT

Some highlights from ITV Sport


08:51 PM GMT

HALF-TIME! France 10-17 Ireland

That half has been all Ireland until the final minute, they’ve dominated every area of the game apart from the scrum and Crowley has fared well.

But, when Mauvaka gets going and France have quick ball, that can happen. Ireland deservedly ahead at the break.

Ireland's lock Tadhg Beirne (C) runs with the ball to score Irelands's second try
Tadhg Beirne breaks free to score for Ireland - GETTY IMAGES

08:49 PM GMT

TRY PENAUD! France 10-17 Ireland

France barely get that lineout back, somehow winning it, before Mauvaka goes on a thundering run and is inches short of the line. France recycle, Penaud looping off his wing and he’s over for France’s first try! That was slick once the quick ruck ball happened. Game back on as Ramos converts.


08:45 PM GMT

37 mins - France 3-17 Ireland

The only area where France are getting much joy is at the scrum, where Porter has collapsed under pressure from Atonio. France go to the corner.

They’re coming to life now, a penalty coming for offside. Alldritt stopped five metres out, then Fickou - mega tackle from Keenan to send Penaud backwards so we come back for the penalty.


08:43 PM GMT

35 mins - France 3-17 Ireland

France teetering but that’s an effective maul and they have a penalty inside Ireland’s 22, France hadn’t rolled away. But Ireland poach it and clear, brilliant steal by Beirne and France’s struggles continue.


08:40 PM GMT

Data insights from Sage


08:39 PM GMT

RED CARD WILLEMSE! France 3-17 Ireland

Lowe with another clearance to touch. France have to score next, you feel, and they have a lineout... wait, play stopped as it’s another TMO check on Willemse!

It’s going to be a second yellow and which means he is sent off! The tackle on McCarthy met the yellow card threshold according to referee Karl Dickson and Willemse has gone. France in a hole now, what a strong position for Ireland.

Having already had a yellow card, Willemse’s decision-making there has to be called into question.


08:35 PM GMT

TRY BEIRNE! France 3-17 Ireland

Lucu’s had a few wobbles but those box kicks exiting the 22 have been good, which he does now following the restart.

Doris with a good hard run, then Van der Flier, Ireland back in France’s 22. Bit of a loose ball from Furlong before Mauvaka hits Beirne hard.

Test for France’s defence but what a superb pass that is from Crowley to send Beirne through to score! So well-timed that pass, Mauvaka shot out of the line and it left a huge hole for Beirne to go through. France a bit of a mess.


08:32 PM GMT

PEN RAMOS! France 3-10 Ireland

Excellent hit that from Ramos and France are on the board. They needed that. Ireland otherwise in total control.


08:31 PM GMT

25 mins - France 0-10 Ireland

France now with a scrum, just inside Ireland’s half. They need something out of this game and they’ve mullered Ireland’s scrum to get a penalty.

From that, France will take a shot through Ramos.


08:28 PM GMT

23 mins - France 0-10 Ireland

Gibson-Park absolutely fizzing so far, bursts to the right off the scrum and France are nearly caught out with Ramos making the key tackle. The Irish forwards then take it on but are held up over the line. France look way off the pace.

France clear with a dropout but it’s another Irish breakdown penalty, Alldritt his time infringing going for a turnover. Crowley lining up a shot... and misses!


08:25 PM GMT

Our verdict on the Willemse decision

Probably a fair call, with the bunker official deeming Porter’s drop in height was enough to cause Willemse’s shoulder to make contact with the prop’s face. But Willemse is lucky - he could and should have been lower. It was one of those incidents where there would not have been too many surprises had it been red, but there was just about enough mitigation to save him. Generally, it would have been a shame had a game of this magnitude been decided by a red card.


08:23 PM GMT

20 mins - France 0-10 Ireland

Ireland absolutely bossing the kicking battle here, whether it’s Lowe or Gibson-Park pinning France in their own half. Porter has returned from his HIA and Willemse is back from the bin too.

France get a maul going but then Lucu is charged down by Beirne, who regathers it too as Ireland attack. Crowley just can’t get a pass away to Aki,who would have been through a huge hole racing for the line. Ireland scrum, the first scrum.


08:21 PM GMT

TRY GIBSON-PARK! France 0-10 Ireland

Very well worked from Ireland and there’s the first try. Henshaw slips Aki into space and Gibson-Park is there on the inside to finish. Crowley converts and Ireland now in a strong position.


08:20 PM GMT

17 mins - France 0-3 Ireland

Battle for territory at the minute with Lowe’s boot prominent as a kick just about avoids rolling out on the full.

The verdict is in for Willemse - it remains a yellow. He’s coming back.


08:18 PM GMT

15 mins - France 0-3 Ireland

McCarthy’s been brilliant for Ireland, a big tackle there to drive Lucu back. France not going anywhere so kick high and Lowe claims a mark.

Here’s the Willemse incident:


08:15 PM GMT

13 mins - France 0-3 Ireland

Ireland win the lineout and there’s good runs from Aki and McCarthy, the latter coming back on the angle, before Crowley wastes the attack with a grubber while rolls dead. Penaud, thinking quickly, takes the 22 short and then clears upfield - smart play from a top player.


08:14 PM GMT

11 mins - France 0-3 Ireland

What can Ireland do then with that extra player advantage. In possession now trying crack France open as Nash chips over the top. Ramos regathers and after a bit of panic, Ramos flinging a loose pass, Lucu gets a short clearance away. Good lineout position for Ireland outside France’s 22.


08:10 PM GMT

8 mins - France 0-3 Ireland

Ringrose lifted by Van der Flier claims the restart before Ireland clear. Ollivon with a nice run but Ireland are sharp again at the breakdown, O’Mahony winning the turnover penalty after Ollivon became a bit detached from his team-mates.

We have a TMO check. Porter has gone off for an HIA after being caught by a shoulder from Willemse clearing out a ruck. It’s a yellow card for Paul Willemse and will be reviewed by the bunker.


08:08 PM GMT

PEN CROWLEY! France 0-3 Ireland

Nice and easy chip shot for the No 10 and it’s Ireland with the first points of the championship.


08:06 PM GMT

6 mins - France 0-0 Ireland

Ireland with an advantage after France strayed offside, Mauvaka penalised. Will Ireland take a shot? No, Crowley goes for the corner.

O’Mahony wins it and Ireland are mauling, before Sheehan has a run. Beirne rumbles now, Danty so close to a turnover - new penalty coming for Ireland for offside who are five metres out. Will they take the points now? Yes.


08:05 PM GMT

4 mins - France 0-0 Ireland

Lineout won, Doris carries before Lowe with the left boot clears long. Ramos puts a bomb up, claimed by Lowe. Ireland in their own half and Gibson-Park box kicks over halfway. Very well taken by Ramos, France moving it wide before Lowe intercepts Ramos’ pass. Chance for Ireland here.


08:03 PM GMT

2 mins - France 0-0 Ireland

Beirne claims the lineout, Ireland go through a couple of phases before Crowley’s low kick is charged down and Ramos clears.

Mazy run from Jalibert and France are moving, Fickou feeding Penaud who is tackled into touch by Keenan inside Ireland’s 22.


08:02 PM GMT

Kick-off!

Crowley gets the tournament going, claimed by Ollivon, France go through a couple of phases before Lucu clears with a box kick, and a very good one into touch near halfway.


08:00 PM GMT

Our other man in Marseille... might need some help


07:58 PM GMT

Teams are out

Not long now - seems like a good contingent have travelled from Ireland as well. Peter O’Mahony focused as ever, a huge night for Ireland’s new captain.

Prediction wise, leaning France by... seven? Seven feels right.


07:52 PM GMT

Fans still filing in


07:50 PM GMT

Our man in Marseille

There might not yet have been a sniff of Zombie, but the Marseille brass band firing up into renditions of Freed From Desire and Dans Les Yeux d’Emilie have given this fixture even more of a World Cup feel. Ghosts from that tournament still linger - no Cranberries pun intended - over both sides, but victory tonight will go some way to banishing them. For one side, however, the shroud will remain for another week, at least.


07:43 PM GMT

Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards on Ireland's new No 10, Jack Crowley

Andy Farrell: He’s part of the team, he’s not on his own. He’s got a lot of people around him. The best thing he can do is be the best version of himself, to be calm.

Edwards: He’s a very good player. His kicking game is absolutely exceptional.


07:33 PM GMT

Where's Antoine?

As mentioned earlier, if anyone’s searching for Dupont’s name on the teamsheet, he’s not participating in the Six Nations while he trains with the France sevens side ahead of the Olympics.


07:31 PM GMT

Strong starters


07:23 PM GMT

Extremely excited to see...

A number of players really, but Peato Mauvaka was like a loose boulder in France’s last game against South Africa and if that continues, fantastic. Even against Ireland’s excellent defence, will still be surprised if Damian Penaud fails to get over the line.

Joe McCarthy’s rise in the second row from Rugby World Cup bolter to squeezing out James Ryan in the starting XV is also interesting.

If I had to encourage you to watch a one-on-one battle in particular, it would be Jonathan Danty against Bundee Aki in midfield. Both titans (and both in my fantasy team).


07:19 PM GMT

Le coin toss


07:04 PM GMT

Under an hour to go, here are our predictions for the tournament

You’ll find a lot of France, with five out of our seven writers tipping Les Bleus to win the title. Also predictions for player of the tournament, top try scorer and breakthrough player.


06:57 PM GMT

We also have a new columnist

Delighted to have Wayne Barnes along for the Six Nations as our new columnist. Here is the recent Rugby World Cup final referee discussing the three changes he would like to make to the game.


06:52 PM GMT

We have a podcast

Still time to catch up with the latest episode of the Telegraph Rugby Podcast previewing the 2024 Six Nations, with special guests Eddie Jones and Sebastian Negri.


06:49 PM GMT

There's a new Tuilagi in town

Posolo Tuilagi, the nephew of England centre Manu, is on the bench for France tonight and could make his Test debut. Here’s Charles Richardson with some background on the giant Perpignan teenager.

Posolo Tuilagi of France inspects the pitch prior to the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between France and Ireland
Posolo Tuilagi taking it all in as France arrive - Getty Images

06:43 PM GMT

The 2023 highlights

This should whet the appetite.


06:34 PM GMT

A reminder of your teams

France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty, Y Moefana; M Jalibert, M Lucu; C Baille, P Mauvaka, U Atonio, P Gabrillagues, P Willemse, F Cros, C Ollivon, G Alldritt (c).
Replacements: J Marchand, R Wardi, D Aldegheri, P Tuilagi, C Woki, P Boudehent, N -Le Garrec, L Bielle-Biarrey

Ireland: H Keenan; C Nash, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Lowe; J Crowley, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, D Sheehan, T Furlong, J McCarthy, T Beirne, P O’Mahony (c), J van der Flier, C Doris.
Replacements: R Kelleher, C Healy, F Bealham, J Ryan, R Baird, J Conan, C Murray, C Frawley


06:30 PM GMT

Evening everyone

Something doesn’t quite feel right about having the best game of the championship kicking off proceedings for 2024, but at the same time, no one should be complaining about getting to spend their Friday night watching two giants in France and Ireland in battle in Marseille.

The winner tonight you sense will go on to win the entire championship, which isn’t meant to be disrespectful to the other four teams involved - it’s just that France and Ireland are on another level at this point.

There are two fascinating subplots this evening, starting with how both teams have processed their respectively agonising defeats in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals last year.

The other of course is the rather large half-back shaped hole in each XV, with Antoine Dupont now away on sevens duty ahead of the Olympics and Jonathan Sexton having retired. This initially seems easier for France to manage given the presence of Maxime Lucu at scrum-half partnering his club team-mate Matthieu Jalibert.

I’ve also picked out France’s replacement scrum-half, Nolann Le Garrec, as my breakthrough player of the tournament given his goalkicking ability and the way he’s cut defences open playing for Racing 92.

Sexton meanwhile has been such a dominant presence for so long for Ireland, a proven matchwinner time and again, that filling his boots seems like an enormous task. Jack Crowley emerged as the likely successor at the end of 2022, after Ireland had looked at numerous options, and has been given the first audition by Andy Farrell to impress.

You’ll remember that last year’s Six Nations meeting between the two sides in Dublin was an absolute classic which ended up having a defining impact on the title. If we’re treated to a similar spectacle this evening, that would be much appreciated. All the buildup coming your way before kickoff at 8pm.

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