Ireland expect French ‘war of attrition’ in Six Nations opener

Ireland expect French ‘war of attrition’ in Six Nations opener

A strong-looking Ireland bidding for unprecedented back-to-back Grand Slams expect a “war of attrition” when they kick this season’s Six Nations Championship off against France in Marseille on Friday.

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Europe’s showpiece competition has tended to throw up some real arm wrestles in recent years and the showdown at the Stade Velodrome between two teams who were disappointed to have been knocked out at the quarter-finals of last year’s Rugby World Cup promises just that.

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Both sides will contend that wounds have been sufficiently licked after their respective eliminations by South Africa (France, 29-28) and New Zealand (Ireland, 29-24) in the last-eight phase, and neither shows too many changes in personnel from the World Cup.

There are two stand-out absentees, however.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has retired, while his France counterpart Antoine Dupont is missing the Six Nations as he prepares for a potentially starring role in rugby sevens at this summer’s Paris Olympics.

Jack Crowley and Maxime Lucu are the players who take their positions in two loaded teams.

Loaded enough that coaches Andy Farrell and France’s Fabien Galthie both opted for a split of six forwards and two backs on the replacements’ bench.

“We all know it’s going to be a war of attrition,” said Farrell.

“Set piece is premium in any game that you play against France, they’re big men, the size of their pack, and they’re very accurate as far as the set piece is concerned.”

Farrell added he thought it would also be a fast game.

“If you look at our bench, the power and pace that we’ve got within that pack to come on and finish the game strong is something that we think will work in our favour this time around.”

Veteran flanker Peter O’Mahony skippers the side, with Farrell itching for Friday to roll around.

“The exciting thing for me is are we brave enough, have we got enough courage to go and do what we said we’re going to do?” said Farrell.

“If you want to be successful, if you want to try to be the best, then you’ve got to beat the best in places like this and the occasion doesn’t get much bigger.”

Dupont’s sevens absence aside, Galthie made four other changes from the France side that was edged by the Springboks, who went on to retain the Webb Ellis Cup at the World Cup the French hosted with aplomb.

That loss was a blot on Galthie’s otherwise largely unstained copybook, but the former France captain was in bullish form ahead of the Ireland clash.

“In four years, there hasn’t been a game without a requirement to win,” said Galthie, whose team’s next two home Six Nations games will be played in Lille and Lyon as the Stade de France is prepared for the Olympics.

“We’ve always heard the music in the background of requiring a win.

“The obstacles are the opponents. Before the World Cup, Ireland were world number one, now they’re world number two.

“We’re conscious of the run of games we have: South Africa, now Ireland, who also lost in the quarter-finals. Defeats are part of the journey, as are obstacles. We like it, pressure, requirements, it’s not a problem for us, we’re here for that.”

France won the Grand Slam in 2022 before they were pipped last season by Ireland and Friday’s match, with no disrespect to the four other competing nations, again has the feel of a title decider.

“It will be a great game to watch, there’s no doubt about that and the stadium, the atmosphere, it being the first game of the Six Nations after a World Cup, if you can’t get excited about that you’re in the wrong place,” said Farrell.


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