Six Nations opener: France v Ireland — three key clashes
Both teams have new men in charge for this year's competition.
Hugo Keenan of Ireland. Picture: Christian Liewig Corbis/Getty Images
The 2024 edition of the Six Nations gets under way on Friday when France host Ireland in Marseille, with kick-off at 10pm.
In the two other Six Nations games on the opening weekend, Italy host England (4.15pm) and Wales welcome Scotland (6.45pm), both on Saturday.
These are the three key head to heads that could prove decisive in the opening match in Marseille on Friday.
Gregory Alldritt v Peter O’Mahony
You could easily argue that their two names would be first on the respective team sheets. There are new dawns as the pair have both been named skippers of their national sides.
O’Mahony took over the Ireland captaincy from the now-retired Johnny Sexton. The blindside flanker has been a stalwart in green, winning 101 caps, and even at the age of 34 is still producing the goods at the heart of a strong Irish pack.
“He’s been calm enough,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell said of O’Mahony. “He’s not over playing his hand and that’s how it should be. Just be yourself, that’s good enough for us all.
“I’m sure that he’ll be gathering his thoughts to make sure that he starts to take ownership at the end of the week, which is what captains normally do.”
Alldritt is named France skipper in the absence of Antoine Dupont, the France captain who is sitting out the Six Nations in his bid to play rugby sevens at the Paris Olympics.
The No 8, still just 26, has led his club La Rochelle to back-to-back Champions Cup titles and the durable backrower has a commanding presence on the pitch that the French will no doubt need in what promises to be a humdinger of a Six Nations opener.
“He brings a collective and personal vision, he has experience,” France coach Fabien Galthie said of Alldritt.
“He can bring his energy, sensitivity, his European side, a lot of assets that seemed to us to make it obvious about the captaincy.”
Maxime Lucu v Jamison Gibson-Park
Gibson-Park looks to have made the Ireland number nine shirt his own after a battle with Conor Murray, who is again named on the bench. The New Zealand-born scrumhalf is an effervescent figure around the pitch, a constant threat at ruck time who links well with the strong Irish forward runners.
How he combines with Jack Crowley, in at flyhalf in the absence of retired Johnny Sexton, will be crucial.
Lucu is himself in for Dupont. Lucu is a classic French halfback, a brilliant kicker more aligned as a playmaker than an out-and-out scrumhalf in traditional terms.
“They have to learn to play without Antoine,” Galthie said. “It will be interesting to see this different side of the French national team.”
Ireland, and Gibson-Park in particular, will have to be at their very best to counter Lucu’s ever-aware, heads-up style of rugby.
Thomas Ramos v Hugo Keenan
Keenan is a sublime attacking fullback, eating up metres on the counter to give his side valuable front-foot ball. Solid under the high ball, the Irishman also has an effective kicking game out of hand.
Ramos is a points-scoring machine, possessing a metronomic penalty-kicking boot. But to say that is all he offers would be far from the truth.
The Toulouse fullback can slot in easily in the playmaker’s position, has a fine defensive game and is also adept at counter-attacking rugby.
Two better fullbacks in world rugby one would be hard pressed to find. Both are currently at the top of their games and while perhaps bringing differing qualities, each perfectly suits the gameplan of their respective teams.
“If Ireland had knocked us out of the World Cup, we might have been more on a revenge mission, but what we want is to turn the page and move on,” Ramos said of finally putting quarter-final woes to bed.