Exactly 110 days later, the XV of France returned to competition. More than three and a half months after the cruel elimination of “its” World Cup against South Africa, the French team will launch, Friday evening (9 p.m.) at the Stade Vélodrome, its 2024 Six Nations Tournament with a shock at the top against Ireland. Fabien Galthié, the French coach, recently suggested that “80 or 90% of the squad” from the last World Cup will go to the next edition in 2027 in Australia. And, for the first match of his second mandate, the trend was confirmed with the call-up of 20 players (out of 23) who were present at the last World Cup.
Absent during the last World Cup due to injury, second-row Paul Willemse (Montpellier), part of the Blues since 2020, finds a starting place, after Toulouse's Emmanuel Meafou withdrew due to injury (knee). He will be associated in the cage with the returning Paul Gabrillagues, whose last selection dates back to the quarter-final of the 2019 World Cup lost to Wales. A high-tonnage team, more powerful than the duo formed by Thibaud Flament (foot injury) and Cameron Woki, judged less efficient after nine starts in 2023.
The latest newcomer is scrum half Nolann Le Garrec (Racing 92), author of remarkable performances with Ciel et Blanc this season. He will start on the substitutes' bench, understudying Maxime Lucu (UBB), propelled into the position due to the absence of Antoine Dupont, who gave up this Tournament to devote himself to preparing for the next Olympics with the French team at 7. Maxime Lucu will pair up at the hinge with his club partner, Matthieu Jalibert, number 1 fly-half for the Blues since Romain Ntamack's injury before the last World Cup. In the event of a problem, it is Thomas Ramos who would slide from behind to the opening.
The other little surprise in this team composition comes from the tenure on the left wing of Yoram Moefana (UBB), who was preferred to his teammate in Gironde, the young Louis Bielle-Biarrey. After a notable debut in blue, Moefana had not particularly shone during his last outings with the French team, but he has particularly stood out with Bordeaux-Bègles, since the start of the season and the arrival of the new manager. Yannick Bru.
Following his impressive World Cup, Peato Mauvaka retains his place as starting hooker, ahead of his club partner, Julien Marchant, who will start on the bench. Note that in anticipation of the tough fight that awaits the Blues at the Vélodrome, the French staff opted for a bench with six forwards and two backs (Le Garrec, Bielle-Biarrey). The Blues will leave Marcoussis this Wednesday to join Marseille, before the captain's training (Grégory Alldritt in the absence of Antoine Dupont) which will take place on Thursday at the Stade Vélodrome.
Ramos - Penaud, Fickou, Danty, Moefana - (o) Jalibert, (m) Lucu - Ollivon, Alldritt (cap), Cros - Willemse, Gabrillagues - Atonio, Mauvaka, Baille.
Substitutes: Marchand, Wardi, Aldegheri, Woki, R. Taofifenua, Boudehent, Le Garrec, Bielle-Biarrey.