What a start to the 2024 Six Nations it will be on Friday night in Marseille as France clash with Ireland in the tournament opener.
These two sides were the dominant forces in last year’s championship and the result at the Stade Velodrome looks likely to have a major impact on where the Six Nations trophy could be heading this season.
Starting with the hosts, France head coach Fabien Galthie has gone with Maxime Lucu at scrum-half in place of skipper Antoine Dupont.
Dupont confirmed he would miss the entire Six Nations campaign this season to focus on being ready for the home Olympic Games in Paris for the Sevens Rugby competition.
With Toulouse fly-half Romain Ntamack working his way back from injury, Lucu will partner his Bordeaux team-mate Matthieu Jalibert in the half-backs.
It’s a relatively settled French backline otherwise, with Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud and Yoram Moefana in the back three, while Gael Fickou and Jonathan Danty continue in the centres.
In the pack, Francois Cros comes into the back-row alongside Charles Ollivon and skipper Gregory Alldritt.
Paul Gabrillagues and Paul Willemse make up the second-row, with Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka and Uini Atonio at the coalface.
As for the visitors, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell will have to do without Garry Ringrose in the centres due to a shoulder injury.
Robbie Henshaw comes to the middle of the backline alongside Bundee Aki, with a back-three of James Lowe, Calvin Nash and Hugo Keenan outside.
Jack Crowley has been given the nod at No.10 following the retirement of Johnny Sexton after the 2023 Cup, with Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half.
Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong make up the front-row, with Joe McCarthy and Tadhg Beirne the two starting locks.
The formidable back-row is made up of new skipper Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris.
France are the favourites to make a winning start on home soil at 8/15, with Ireland at 8/5 to come out on top in Marseille.
A tie on the night is available at 20/1, while Ireland are also 20/21 with +4 in the handicap 3-way market.
Ireland to win @ 8/5
These sides played out a thrilling Test match at the Aviva Stadium last year, with Ireland running out 32-19 winners in Dublin.
The big question going into this reunion in Marseille is how both sides will fare without their biggest names.
Sexton retiring for Ireland, while Dupont and Ntamack are unavailable for France, it’s a question of which side will cope best.
Ireland have made a habit of winning big games on the road and the fact this match is not being played at the Stade de France might well play in their favour.
The Irish claimed a famous series win in New Zealand in 2022 and that success against the All Blacks has been a platform to build on.
Crowley has a big night ahead of him at fly-half but in a structured Irish pattern of play, the Leinster man should slot in seamlessly.
Ireland’s set-piece could prove the difference and the men in green look to be good value to come back from Marseille with the win.
Josh van der Flier to score anytime @ 4/1
This is set to be a mouthwatering battle in the forwards and when Ireland get close to the French line, expect them to keep it with the forwards.
Josh van der Flier has enjoyed a strong season with Leinster so far, scoring tries in two games in the European Champions Cup this term.
The 30-year-old back-rower has 10 tries for his country already and is in the form to add to his tally on Friday night.
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