Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has included three Guinness Men’s Six Nations debutants in his squad for Friday night’s opener against France in Marseille (kick-off 9pm local time/8pm Irish time).
For the start of the 2024 Championship, Farrell has made four changes to the team that bowed out of the Rugby World Cup to New Zealand in mid-October.
Following Jonathan Sexton’s retirement, Peter O’Mahony steps up as captain and his Munster colleague, Jack Crowley, will wear the number 10 jersey on his first Six Nations start. He was briefly involved as a replacement against Italy last February.
Garry Ringrose’s shoulder injury sees Robbie Henshaw return in midfield to partner Bundee Aki, the recent winner of the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Men’s 15s Player of the Year award.
With Mack Hansen and Jimmy O’Brien both ruled out of the tournament through injury, Calvin Nash’s strong provincial form is rewarded with a Six Nations debut on the right wing.
Jamison Gibson-Park, James Lowe, and Hugo Keenan complete the back-line, and the only alteration to the World Cup quarter-final pack sees Leinster’s powerful 22-year-old lock Joe McCarthy packing down alongside Tadhg Beirne for his first Six Nations appearance.
Captaining his country for the 11th time, O’Mahony joins Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris in an experienced back row combination. Andrew Porter, a try scorer during last year’s 32-19 home win over France, wins his 60th cap in the front row, alongside Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong.
Farrell has opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench with Ronan Kelleher, the fit-again Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, and Jack Conan providing the forward reinforcements.
Conor Murray and Ciaran Frawley, who is also poised for his Six Nations debut, are the back-line options. Ireland are chasing their first victory over France on French soil since Sexton’s dramatic late drop goal decided the 2018 clash in Paris.
Speaking ahead of the game, Farrell said: “It’s mouth-watering, isn’t it? It will be a great game to watch, I’m sure, there’s no doubt about that. The stadium, the atmosphere, it being the first game of the Six Nations after a World Cup.
“If you can’t get excited about that as I keep saying, you’re in the wrong place. For us, it’s just living up to our own expectations, we expect to perform on the big stage and it doesn’t really get any bigger than this one.
“We all know it’s going to be a war of attrition, set-piece is premium in any game that you play against France. They’re big men, the size of their pack, and they’re very accurate as far as the set-piece is concerned.
“But not just that, with where we’re playing, the conditions, and the type of game that France can also play in the broken-field, we think it’s going to be a fast game as well.
“So, if you look at our bench, the power and pace that we’ve got within that pack to come on and finish the game strong is something that we think will work in our favour this time around.”
Friday’s first round match is live on Virgin Media One in Republic of Ireland, and ITV 1 in the United Kingdom.
IRELAND MEN’S Team & Replacements (v France, 2024 Guinness Men’s Six Nations Championship – Round 1, Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, Friday, February 2, kick-off 9pm local time/8pm Irish time):