19-year-old out-half Matthieu Jalibert will make his debut for France in Jacques Brunel’s first match in charge as they host Ireland in Saturday’s NatWest 6 Nations opener in Paris (kick-off 5.45pm local time/4.45pm Irish time).
Matthieu Jalibert, who played twice against the Ireland Under-19s last season, will partner Maxime Machenaud – the team’s goal-kicker – at half-back in a much-changed starting XV, with the second debutant being Castres’ Geoffrey Palis at full-back.
Captain Guilhem Guirado is comfortably the most-capped member of the squad with 56 caps, featuring in the most-recognised of France’s combinations – the front row. Props Jefferson Poirot and Rabah Slimani complete the trio, who all started last time out against Japan in November.
The 23-year-old Arthur Iturria comes in for his first start, linking up with his Clermont Auvergne team-mate Sébastien Vahaamahina in the second row, while La Rochelle’s Kevin Gourdon shifts to number 8 for the first time at this level, with Wenceslas Lauret and Yacouba Camara filling the flanker roles.
Teddy Thomas and Henry Chavancy are the only backs retained in their positions from the 23-23 draw with Japan. Racing wingers Thomas and Virimi Vakatawa will support newcomer Palis in the back-three, and Chavancy and Clermont’s Rémi Lamerat form the midfield tandem.
There are also four uncapped players on the bench – front row reserves Adrien Pelissié, Dany Priso and Cedate Gomes Sa and Bordeaux-Bègles number 8 Marco Tauleigne – and Jacques Brunel, who coached Italy between 2011 and 2016, is quietly confident that the new players will deliver on their debuts.
“From the moment we thought he (Jalibert) was up to playing at this level, there was no reason not to pick him. We think he’s able to handle this role. I think he’s settled and well integrated into the group,” said Brunel, who coached Jalibert over the first few months of the season at Bordeaux-Bègles.
“Palis is coming back from injury but he’s had a great return to league action. He’s been here for two weeks now, we know his qualities, especially against the Irish kicking game. I think he’ll give us security (at full-back), he’s well built and has a big left boot which can be useful to us.”
He added: “We’re up against an Irish team in full confidence who had a great last year (2017), beating England and winning all their November Tests. We know we’re not favourites but these two weeks we’ve built a spirit that will allow us to compete with this team.”
FRANCE Team & Replacements (v Ireland, 2018 NatWest 6 Nations Championship, Stade de France, Saturday, February 3, kick-off 5.45pm local time/4.45pm Irish time):
15. Geoffrey Palis (Castres Olympique) *
14. Teddy Thomas (Racing 92) 8
13. Rémi Lamerat (Clermont Auvergne) 16
12. Henry Chavancy (Racing 92) 3
11. Virimi Vakatawa (Racing 92) 15
10. Matthieu Jalibert (Bordeaux-Bègles) *
9. Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92) 31
1. Jefferson Poirot (Bordeaux-Bègles) 14
2. Guilhem Guirado (Toulon) (capt) 56
3. Rabah Slimani (Clermont Auvergne) 41
4. Sébastien Vahaamahina (Clermont Auvergne) 28
5. Arthur Iturria (Clermont Auvergne) 1
6. Wenceslas Lauret (Racing 92) 12
7. Yacouba Camara (Montpellier) 6
8. Kévin Gourdon (La Rochelle) 15
16. Adrien Pelissié (Bordeaux-Bègles) *
17. Dany Priso (La Rochelle) *
18. Cedate Gomes Sa (Racing 92) *
19. Paul Gabrillagues (La Rochelle) 2
20. Marco Tauleigne (Bordeaux-Bègles) *
21. Antoine Dupont (Toulouse) 6
22. Anthony Belleau (Toulon) 2
23. Benjamin Fall (Montpellier) 6
* Denotes uncapped player at this level