Ireland turn to the unknown in first trip to packed Paris since Le Drop

Saturday Ireland’s first away fixture in front of a packed crowd since 2020 in London

Munster out half Joey Carbery, who is fully fit after an extended period of injuries, says that he is "relishing" the opportunity to make his first start in the Six Nations away to France in place of injured captain Johnny Sexton. Video: VOTN

Ireland return to what has become relatively unfamiliar terrain in the frenzied atmosphere of a Saturday night, Six Nations, Stade de France full house on Saturday evening. It's been two years since they played an away game in front of fans, that 24-12 defeat by England at Twickenham, and four years since they last played in front of a Parisian crowd, which ended rather memorably.

Of course the man who supplied the coup de grace with le drop that day, Johnny Sexton, will be merely on water bottle duty this time after the hamstring injury he sustained in training ruled him out. James Ryan assumes the captaincy and Joey Carbery the outhalf role, with the return of Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw adding to a strikingly experienced bench featuring five Lions.

However, it will be up to the starting XV that draws the early lines in the sand, for the quieter the Stade De France crowd is after 20 minutes or so, the better Ireland will have worked their way into the game.

“I don’t know a side who doesn’t want to start well, it’s part of everyone’s requirement, to start the game well,” said Andy Farrell on Thursday. “At the same time, we’ll take each moment as it comes and we think it’s great, going to Paris and being in front a full crowd. I’ve no doubt that the Irish fans will make themselves heard. We’re just glad to be back in an event like that.”


By the same token, keeping this star-studded, well-coached and highly charged home side quiet for 80 minutes will be well nigh-on impossible, and Farrell knows his team will have to roll with a few punches.

The last time Ireland played at a packed Stade de France, Johnny Sexton broke French hearts. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“A big part of international rugby or any big sporting event is that you’ve got to be mentally strong to stay in the moment and there’s no doubt that France are going to have a purple patch. That happens, it’s an absolute given. How we get back down to neutral and get back on task is going to be key for both sides, there’s no doubt.”

More laidback than his predecessor, a feature of Farrell’s tenure as head coach has been the way he almost embraces upheavals, on the premise that injuries and late withdrawals are an inevitable part of rugby. This, he said, would be a great opportunity for this team to grow further, and we’re sure to find out more about not only Joey Carbery’s abilities, but James Ryan’s leadership too.

In addition to calling the lineouts, this will be the 25-year-old lock’s fifth outing as captain, beginning with the Autumn Nations Cup defeat in Twickenham in November 2020 and the wins against Georgia, a week later, and last summer’s wins at home to Japan and the USA.

Of course, the team’s leadership in the Stade de France tomorrow evening will be shared, with the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Jack Conan and Garry Ringrose all experienced Test players by now. That said, the bench boasts more caps (436) than the starting XV (409), where suddenly only Furlong (53 caps) has more than Ryan’s 41.

Yet Farrell has already seen development in this area, citing: “Ownership, taking control of their team, thinking a little bit differently, not just turning up, but having an opinion of where they’re at and how they feel. The ownership keeps growing and we keep benefiting from that.”

Meanwhile Fabien Galthié has made two changes to the French starting XV. As expected the 21-year-old Bordeaux centre Yoram Moefana replaces the injured Jonathan Danty while the Toulouse flanker Francois Cros relegates Dylan Cretin to the bench, where the French have recalled Thibaud Flament in reverting to the 6-2 split favoured in their three Autumn Series wins. Cameron Woki remains in the secondrow while there is still no place for Virimi Vakatawa.

Farrell seemed almost a little irritated when asked about his fears of the big French forwards who will be both starting and finishing the game, initially interrupting the question when stating ‘no’ before answering: “We’ve to play our own game, that’s the way we’re thinking. We’ve got to be brave enough to play the game how we want to play and not get distracted with thoughts like that. We fell into that trap before against big, physical sides and we’ve not been composed enough to play our game. We have learned some lessons along the way with that.”

Galthié admitted that they had anticipated an Irish side with Sexton starting. “We worked on Ireland and prepared for the game with him at outhalf. What we saw against Wales and New Zealand, he was their playmaker, their leader, their captain.”

“We think this (Irish) team are very structured, they have a very serene gameplan, they will keep that style of attack. We imagine they will keep the same fundamentals, attack and defence-wise despite, the absence of Johnny Sexton,”

As is his wont, the French head coach also built up the game nicely.

“It will be a solid test for us. Ireland arrive with a good run of victories, with the status of European number one and third in the world (rankings) therefore they are the best European adversary at the moment. They come to Paris with the same ambition as us, to win.

“Clearly on Saturday we are touching the summit of European rugby, the sublime side of European rugby. Our opponent is hugely admired by followers of rugby therefore all that obliges us to have the will power and the belief to raise our levels in all respects.”

Ireland: Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD); Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen), Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD), Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians), Mack Hansen (Connacht); Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD), Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf); Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne), James Ryan (Leinster/UCD, capt); Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary's College), Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD), Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere).

Replacements: Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne), Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf), Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers), Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy), Peter O'Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution), Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen), Jack Carty (Connacht/Buccaneers), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers).

France: Melvyn Jaminet; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Gabin Villière; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio; Cameron Woki, Paul Willemse; Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifuena, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos.

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)

Assistant Referee 1: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)

Assistant Referee 2: Craig Evans (Wales)

TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)