We look ahead to the opening match of the 2024 Guinness Men’s Six Nations with our France vs Ireland prediction and preview.
Following the conclusion of the 2023 Guinness Men’s Six Nations, you could be forgiven for believing that this mouthwatering opening match of 2024 might include a team fresh off the back of a maiden Rugby World Cup victory. Unfortunately for France and Ireland, agonising quarter-final exits mean this Friday’s showdown in Marseille is a clash between two nations licking their wounds and looking to get back to winning ways as soon as possible.
Before their respective World Cup defeats, France and Ireland had seemingly forgotten how to lose. Les Bleus had been on an 18-game winning run on home soil, while Ireland were enjoying a record 17-match winning streak. Andy Farrell’s side claimed the all-important win in Dublin last year, but the French have enjoyed head-to-head success in this fixture, having won the previous three match-ups. This will be the first time France have hosted Ireland in Marseille, although one suspects that shouldn’t affect Fabien Galthié’s men too much. In their last outing there they recorded their biggest-ever Test victory (96-0 v Namibia at the 2023 RWC) while they’ve won all eight of the home games under their current head coach they’ve played away from their traditional home venue in Parc des Princes, Paris.
France and Ireland know their way to the try line, meaning the opening match of this year’s Six Nations should see plenty of action. Les Bleus have scored at least one try in each of their last 32 matches in the Championship, while the Irish have scored in their last 29. That said, the last time either team failed to cross the whitewash in the Championship was in this fixture (France in 2017, Ireland in 2018).
The way in which they score tries is often quite different; France can be ruthlessly efficient, scoring tries from seemingly nothing, while Ireland are relentless, continuously applying pressure until opposition defences can take no more. That was highlighted in their 22 entry numbers in last year’s Championship, with the Grand Slam holders averaging the most 22 entries per game (10.6) and France averaging the most points per 22 entry (3.1). It’s no surprise to see them enter the Championships as co-favourites.
The biggest weakness for either team may well come in terms of missing personnel. For the first time since 2009, Ireland go into a campaign without the influential Johnny Sexton. Back in 2009 they had Ronan O’Gara to guide them to glory and Ireland fans will hope that 2024 sees another Munsterman write his name in the history books, with Jack Crowley getting the nod for the No. 10 jersey on Friday night.
In team news for France, Les Bleus are without Antoine Dupont, who fancies a crack at a gold medal in the 7-a-side game at this year’s Olympics. Maxime Lucu and Nolann Le Garrec are top-class options, but filling the boots of the three-time Player of the Championship will be no easy feat.
Thomas Ramos will be a key player for France and his goal-kicking might be crucial in what is likely to be a tight game. Ramos was the top-scoring player in last year’s Six Nations, helping Les Bleus to an 85% goal-kicking success rate, the best in the Championship. France scored five points more than expected from the tee based on the difficulty of their kicks, which was also the best rate last time out. In a game of fine margins, Ramos’ boot could be the difference.
Ireland will be hoping Bundee Aki continues his fine form from the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Although Ireland were knocked out in the last eight, the Connacht centre still ranked in the top three for the tournament for carries (81, 2nd), line breaks (10, =3rd), defenders beaten (30, 3rd) and line-break assists (6, =2nd). His tally of five tries was also the joint most for an Ireland player in an edition of the tournament, alongside Keith Earls in 2011. Ireland will be reliant on Aki to give them some go-forward in Marseille on Friday night.
France vs Ireland Prediction
Ahead of kick-off, the Opta supercomputer has France as firm favourites for this game, with the hosts winning 63.3% of its 10,000 pre-game simulations. In terms of a scoreline prediction, it’s opted for France 27-21 Ireland.
France vs Ireland Lineups
Fabien Galthié’s France Six Nations squad against Ireland is out, with selections of lock Paul Gabrillagues and Yoram Moefana on the wing the big calls.
France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana; Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Uini Atonio, Paul Gabrillagues, Paul Willemse, François Cros, Charles Ollivon, Grégory Alldritt (c).
Replacements: Julien Marchand, Reda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, Cameron Woki, Paul Boudehent, Nolann le Garrec, Louis Bielle-Biarrey
Andy Farrell has named wing Calvin Nash and lock Joe McCarthy in his XV to take on France.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe, Jack Crowley, Jamison Gibson Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Joe McCarthy, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (captain), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ciaran Frawley
Other Six Nations Week 1 Fixtures:
Italy vs England
Wales vs Scotland