Jacques Brunel dips into fountain of youth in a bid to revitalise France

Prodigious 19-year-old outhalf Matthieu Jalibert will make his debut against Ireland

French coach Jacques Brunel couldn't be accused of adopting a conservative approach after handing debuts to 19-year-old outhalf Matthieu Jalibert and Castres Olympique fullback Geoffrey Palis with four other potential new caps waiting in the replacements.

Injuries to several marquee players compromised his options in selection terms ahead of the opening Six Nations Championship match against Ireland at the Stade de France on Saturday but Brunel, in his first game in charge, opted to invest in youth and current form.

Jalibert hadn't played a single match in the French Top 14 until three months ago but his coach has no doubt about the Bordeaux player's talent and temperament. "Since he's in the squad we believe he is able to play at that level. There is no reason for him not to start. He has what it takes to take the lead. He's well integrated in the squad. He is mature enough even if the Irish are going to take care of him," he smiled.

Palis, 26, only returnedto the pitch in December having missed eight months with a knee injury, but Brunel is confident that he has the ability to deal with any aerial bombardment, concluding with the observation that, “he (Palis) also has a good left foot that we can use.”


Racing 92 scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, winning his 32nd cap, will be expected to nurse Jalibert through the opening stanzas of his debut and will also be charged with the place-kicking duties; Machenaud has a 94 per cent success-rate in club rugby this season. Brunel confirmed that Palis could be used for long range opportunities.

There is a surfeit of pace on the wings while Henry Chavancy has won the right to partner Remi Lamerat in the centre. An indication of the game that the French are likely to pursue can be gleaned from the speedy, combative backrow where La Rochelle's Kevin Gourdon is flanked by the athletically gifted Yacouba Camara, fit again after missing the November Test series and Wenceslas Lauret.

Indeed the French eight is very mobile while replacement prop La Rochelle's Dany Priso is the epitome of an impact player. It seems everyone's keen to relieve themselves of the mantle of expectation, Brunel pointing out: "We worked on simple bases. We are not favorites, we know, but I hope we have built a state of mind to be combative ."

France: G Palis; T Thomas, R Lamerat, H Chavancy, V Vakatawa; M Jalibert, M Machenaud; J Poirot, G Guirado (capt), R Slimani; S Vahaamahina, A Iturria; Y Camara, W Lauret, K Gourdon.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer