France v Ireland teams: Winners and losers after bold selections for Six Nations opener

Jared Wright
France winger Louis Bielle Biarrey and Ireland lock Joe McCarthy.

France winger Louis Bielle Biarrey and Ireland lock Joe McCarthy.

France head coach Fabien Galthie and Ireland boss Andy Farrell have named their matchday squads for the Six Nations opener on Friday.

Both coaches have kept changes to a minimum on the whole with most of the alterations only made due to injury and retirements.

However, Galthie and Farrell have found space in their 23s to reward form players.

Here are our winners and losers from the two squad selections for the Six Nations opener.

Winners:

The new captains

Antoine Dupont and Johnny Sexton captained France and Ireland, respectively, at the Rugby World Cup and, with the former chasing his Olympic dream and the latter now retired, there were always going to be new leaders for this campaign.

Gregory Alldritt was surprisingly named as skipper for the tournament despite Dupont’s predecessor, Charles Ollivon, also being selected in the squad and matchday 23. The powerful number eight certainly deserves the honour and will likely thrive in the role, as he has done with La Rochelle.

Meanwhile, veteran flanker Peter O’Mahony takes on the job for Ireland following Sexton’s retirement. It came as no surprise when he was unveiled as the captain for the Championship, and he is just the right kind of leader this team needs. The passionate back-rower will fulfil the cliches of leading from the front with his actions but is also sharp with knowledge of the laws and will certainly get his teammates fired up.

He has openly spoken about his passion for representing Ireland, and it’s just reward for a true legend of Irish and Munster rugby.

Joe McCarthy

Fans and pundits criticised Farrell’s lack of fresh faces in his squad for the Six Nations, but the Ireland boss has made a bold decision in the second-row, rewarding Joe McCarthy with a start.

McCarthy has been in stellar form for Leinster after a few standout shifts in the green jersey during the World Cup last year. The 22-year-old has beaten James Ryan to the starting jumper, having seemingly convinced the coaches that he is more than capable of fronting up against an imposing French pack in his first Six Nations Test.

Paul Gabrillagues rewarded

During his time as France’s head coach, Galthie has regularly backed youngsters to shine, but he has also rewarded determination and form.

Stade Francais lock Paul Gabrillagues earned his first call-up during Galthie’s tenure for the 2024 Six Nations and, having impressed this Top 14 season, he earns his first Test cap since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Similarly, Paul Willemse has earned his starting role this week after initially being left out of the squad for the tournament. The powerhouse lock struggled with injuries that ultimately saw him miss the World Cup last year but looks to be back with a point to prove.

Peato Mauvaka

Peato Mauvaka has regularly played second fiddle to Julien Marchand for Toulouse and France, but he is seemingly stepping out of his shadow for good.

Mauvaka had a stellar World Cup following Marchand’s injury and looks to have moved ahead of him in the pecking order in Galthie’s book. The hooker has reportedly not been pleased with coming off the bench in big games with Toulouse and has been making his mark on the pitch to earn the starting jersey.

Jack Crowley

The Munster fly-half is the first to get the opportunity to cement his place as Sexton’s long-term successor.

Crowley has been in excellent form for Munster in recent months and thoroughly deserves his opportunity. While he is fortunate that Ross Byrne is sidelined, he did deserve to stake his claim ahead of Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley.

He finished 2023 as Sexton’s deputy and has the chance to prove himself in a mighty and potentially tournament-deciding clash in the first round.

Losers

Ulster players

Not a single Ulster player has been included in the matchday squad for the opener against France, and some can certainly feel hard done by.

With Farrell opting for a 6-2 split on the bench, Stuart McCloskey can be aggrieved with his snub as he would have surely claimed a spot among the replacements and, considering Robbie Henshaw’s recent injury record, probably should have.

Meanwhile, Nick Timoney has been superb for Ulster this season, and while he was always going to struggle to crack the starting XV, a place on the bench was certainly a possibility, particularly with six forwards featuring.

Jacob Stockdale will have fancied his chances of making the team with Mack Hansen sidelined but unfortunately he was beaten to the jersey by Calvin Nash.

Leinster co-captains Garry Ringrose and James Ryan

Another blow to Ireland’s backline stocks as Garry Ringrose misses the opening game through injury. The Leinster outside centre had put together a string of standout performances before the Six Nations, and looked to be gearing up for a strong tournament. He could still return later in the competition, but his all-round skillset will be missed in the midfield despite Ireland’s depth there.

Meanwhile, his club co-captain Ryan has dropped out of the starting line-up, with McCarthy and Tadhg Beirne favoured. Ryan was one of the leading contenders to skipper Ireland this year, having done so in recent seasons, but has now slipped down the pecking order. Many pundits had him packing down alongside McCarthy and while he is set to provide an impact from the bench, the decision to move him to the bench suggests there is some doubt as to whether he is best suited in the starting XV.

Louis Bielle-Biarrey

After lighting up the World Cup last year, scoring four tries in four matches, Louis Bielle-Biarrey has dropped down to the bench for France, with his clubmate Yoram Moefana favoured on the wing.

Bielle-Biarrey had a tough time in the quarter-final defeat to South Africa as he struggled to deal with the Boks’ kicking game, which may have factored heavily in Galthie’s decision. However, Moefana usually features in the centres for Bordeaux, and while he has done the job on the wing for France before, his selection over Bielle-Biarrey will certainly raise a few eyebrows.

Injured rookie

We already knew that Emmanuel Meafou was not going to be included in the opening round following his knee injury but we were swiftly reminded when Galthie unveiled his team.

It would have been a great spectacle to see the Toulouse powerhouse in action against Ireland, particularly after Farrell had also given the starting jumper to their young star in the second-row.

Hopefully, we will see Meafou making his mark at some point during the tournament.

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