MARCOUSSIS, France (Reuters) - New France coach Jacques Brunel made bold choices as he named teenager Matthieu Jalibert at flyhalf for his team’s Six Nations opening game against Ireland on Saturday.
The 19-year-old Jalibert, who will make his international debut at the Stade de France three months after starting his first Top 14 match with Bordeaux-Begles, has been paired with the in-form Maxime Machenaud after Morgan Parra was ruled out injured.
“This year is going really fast, everything is happening to me at lightning speed,” said Jalibert.
Another uncapped player, fullback Geoffrey Palis, will also start as Brunel will be looking to restore France’s confidence for his first game in charge.
“Since he’s in the squad we believe he is able to play at that level. There is no reason for him not to start,” Brunel, who took over from Guy Noves after a dismal series of international tests last November, told a news conference on Thursday.
”He has what it takes to take the lead. He’s well integrated in the squad.
“He is mature enough even if the Irish are going to take care of him,” Brunel joked.
Machenaud, who has a 94 percent kicking rate this season, will kick the conversions and penalties, said Brunel.
France will rely on Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas’s speed on the wings while Palis, even though he will win his first cap at 26, will be the perfect man to “handle Ireland’s kicking game”, according to Brunel, who earlier this year said Les Bleus should be title contenders.
France last won the Six Nations in 2010.
15-Geoffrey Palis, 14-Teddy Thomas, 13-Remi Lamerat, 12-Henry Chavancy, 11-Virimi Vakatawa, 10-Matthieu Jalibert, 9-Maxime Machenaud, 8-Kevin Gourdon, 7-Yacouba Camara, 6-Wenceslas Lauret, 5-Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4-Arthur Iturria, 3-Rabah Slimani, 2-Guilhem Guirado (cap), 1-Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16-Adrien Pelissie, 17-Dany Priso, 18-Cedate Gomes Sa, 19-Paul Gabrillagues, 20-Marco Tauleigne, 21-Antoine Dupont, 22-Anthony Belleau, 23-Benjamin Fall
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Gareth Jones/Amlan Chakraborty/Pritha Sarkar