Six Nations teams: New-look French side named to take on Ireland, Russell given keys, England’s World Cup shift


Fabien Galthie says France must learn to play without star man Antoine Dupont and has challenged Maxime Lucu to fill the void ahead of their Six Nations opener against Ireland.

Toulouse halfback Dupont is a major absentee for the championship as he focuses on his country’s sevens squad for this year’s Paris Olympics. 

Understudy Lucu will wear Les Bleus’ No.9 shirt for Friday evening’s curtain-raiser in Marseille, with uncapped Racing 92 player Nolann Le Garrec, 21, providing cover from the bench. 

La Rochelle No.8 Gregory Alldritt has taken on the captaincy from Dupont, who was crowned player of the tournament in the three of the past four years. 

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Maxime Lucu has a chance to own the No.9 jersey for France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Head coach Galthie told a press conference: “It’s the moment to acknowledge Antoine. 

“He chose an opening for the Olympics. It’s good to breathe, get out of what is usual in whatever way possible. 

“He leaves a space, an opportunity for other players to take his shirt. Maxime Lucu has been with us since the start of our journey pretty much. He’s always been very good. 

“It’s up to him to take charge of things, with his qualities, calmness, what he can do. 

“We feel Nolann is ready to take on the role. I see this competitiveness in French rugby as a positive thing. 

“Greg as a captain, leader, (full-back) Thomas Ramos and Maxime Lucu are part of them (the leadership team) now, they have to learn to play without Antoine. 

“It will be interesting to see this different side of the French national team.” 

Galthie’s starting XV shows five changes from the team which began France’s epic 29-28 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to eventual winners South Africa on October 15. 

Yoram Moefana is preferred to Louis Bielle-Biarrey on the left wing, while Paul Gabrillagues and Paul Willemse are Les Bleus’ new lock pairing. 

Francois Cros replaces the injured Anthony Jelonch at blindside flanker in the other alteration. 

Meanwhile, Garry Ringrose has been ruled out by Ireland while Jack Crowley, Joe McCarthy and Calvin Nash will make their first starts in the tournament as part an otherwise experienced side.

Ringrose had been struggling with a shoulder issue ahead of selection, and his Leinster teammate Robbie Henshaw will now partner Bundee Aki in the centre for what promises to be huge test of Ireland’s title defence in Paris.

Life after Johnny Sexton has begun with Jack Crowley named at No.10 for Ireland. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Crowley, the only one of the novice trio with any Six Nations experience – with just three minutes against Italy last year – steps into the sizeable boots of Johnny Sexton, who retired last year after a near-unbroken 14-year run in the No.10 shirt.

While Nash’s second cap comes as a result of a tournament-ending injury to Australian Mack Hansen, McCarthy’s fine club form and breakthrough at last year’s World Cup put the big 22-year-old ahead of Leinster teammate James Ryan in the pecking order.

Elsewhere, Farrell retained 11 of the side that narrowly lost to New Zealand in October, having said he favoured retaining continuity over ripping up and starting again at the start of a new four-year World Cup cycle.

Farrell opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench, where Ryan Baird, Jack Conan and a fit-again Cian Healy are among the forward contingent.

Munster flanker Peter O’Mahony leads the side having been appointed as Sexton’s successor as captain earlier this month.

France vs Ireland at Oreange Velodrome, Marseille: 7am, 3rd February

France (15-1): Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana, Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu, Gregory Alldritt (c), Charles Ollivon, Francois Cros, Paul Willemse, Paul Gabrillagues, Uini Atonio, Peato Mauvaka, Cyril Baille

Replacements: Julien Marchand, Reda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Posolo Tuilagi, Paul Boudehent, Cameron Woki, Nolann Le Garrec, Louis Bielle-Biarrey

Ireland (15-1): 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.

Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Ryan, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Jack Conan, 22 Conor Murray, 23 Ciaran Frawley.

Referee: Karl Dickson

Borthwick opts for experience at 10 for trip to Rome

England coach Steve Borthwick has gone with the tried-and-tested option of George Ford at five-eighth for their Six Nations opener away to Italy but has given debuts to centre Fraser Dingwall and flanker Ethan Roots.

With Owen Farrell on a sabbatical and Marcus Smith injured, Ford is preferred at five-eighth for Saturday’s (Sunday AEDT) clash in Rome, with Northampton’s 21-year-old uncapped Fin Smith on the bench. Uncapped winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, also 21, is another of the replacements.

Alex Mitchell has recovered from an infected leg cut to start at halfback, with Danny Care on the bench.

A series of injuries, retirements and unavailability meant that Borthwick’s side was always going to have a new look to that which reached the World Cup semi-finals.

George Ford will wear the No.10 jersey for England in the absence of Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Only 13 of that 23-man squad who lost by a point to South Africa will be on duty in Rome, including eight of the starting XV from Paris.

Dingwall will start at inside centre alongside Henry Slade, with Tommy Freeman and Elliot Daly on the wings.

New-Zealand-born Roots is blindside flanker, with Sam Underhill and Ben Earl completing the back row. Uncapped flanker Chandler Cunningham-South is on the bench.

England have lost their opening game in the last four Six Nations and won only two matches in each of the last three seasons, but they have never lost to Italy.

Italy will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing World Cup campaign, where they failed to build on some promising Six Nations performances to be smashed by the All Blacks and France.

It’s Gonzalo Quesada’s first match in charge since taking over from Kieran Crowley and the former Stade Francais boss has opted for experience.

Indeed, only one member of the starting XV, scrum-half Alessandro Garbisi, has fewer than ten caps.

“It was an intense week of work. There is great enthusiasm throughout the group for their Six Nations debut. The staff and all the players showed great commitment trying to quickly immerse themselves in new methodologies,” Quesada said.

“We will face the third team of RWC 2023 in an exciting tournament, at home in an Olympic Stadium that will make its support felt. Focus on our performance. We can’t wait to get on the field.”

Italy vs England at Stadio Olimpico, Rome. Kick-off: 1:15am, 4th February

Italy (15-1): Tommaso Allan, Ange Capuozzo, Juan Igncio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Monty Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Alessandro Garbisi, Lorenzo Cannone, Michelle Lamaro (c), Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Niccolo Cannone, Pietro Ceccarelli, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Danilo Fischetti

Replacements: Giacomo Nicotera, Mirco Spagnolo, Giosue ZilocchiAndrea Zambonin, Edoardo Iachizzi, Manuel Zuliani, Stephen Varney, Lorenzo Pani

England (15-1):  Freddie Steward, Tommy Freeman, Henry Slade, Fraser Dingwall, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Alex Mitchell, Ben Earl, Sam Underhill, Ethan Roots, Ollie Chessum, Maro Itoje, Will Stuart, Jamie George (c), Joe Marler

Replacements: Theo Dan, Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, Alex Coles, Chandler Cunningham-South, Danny Care, Fin Smith, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso

Referee: Paul Williams

Wales centre George North has been ruled out of their Six Nations opener against Scotland in Cardiff because of a shoulder injury.

North, who has won 118 caps and is comfortably the most experienced player in Wales’ Six Nations squad, was hurt during Ospreys’ recent European Challenge Cup victory over South Africa side, the Lions.

Owen Watkin and Nick Tompkins will forge Wales’ midfield partnership on Saturday, with Cardiff full-back Cameron Winnett handed a Test debut after just 15 games of professional rugby.

The 21-year-old features in a position vacated by Liam Williams’ move to Japan, while full-back option Louis Rees-Zammit recently quit rugby union to pursue a possible American football career.

Finn Russell will captain Scotland against Wales. (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Elsewhere, Winnett’s Cardiff colleague James Botham – grandson of England cricket great Ian Botham – is recalled for a first Wales appearance since July 2021, packing down alongside back-row colleagues Tommy Reffell and Aaron Wainwright.

Dragons prop Leon Brown also starts, with uncapped Cardiff flanker Alex Mann among the replacements, where former Bristol back Ioan Lloyd provides fly-half cover for Sam Costelow.

Racing 92 lock Will Rowlands, whose partner recently gave birth, is not included in the match-day 23, with captain Dafydd Jenkins and Adam Beard forging Wales’ second-row combination.

At 21, Exeter forward Jenkins is Wales’ youngest skipper since a 20-year-old Gareth Edwards led Wales against Scotland in 1968.

Wales have beaten Scotland 11 times on the bounce in Cardiff, winning nine Six Nations games, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an autumn Test since the Scots triumphed in April 2002.

But Wales are now without the likes of Rees-Zammit, Williams and long-term injured trio Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau and Dewi Lake, while Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny retired from international rugby after the World Cup in France.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has named a side with plenty of attacking prowess, headed by new skipper Finn Russell.

After failing to land a punch at the World Cup, Scotland will be eager to bounce back and knock over the rebuilding Welsh side on their home turf.

Former Rebels centre Sione Tuipulotu has been named vice-captain, while ex-Wallaby back-rower Jack Dempsey will come off the bench.

Wales vs Scotland at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Kick-off: 3:45am, 4th February

Wales (15-1): Cameron Winnett, Josh Adams, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Rio Dyer, Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies, Aaron Wainwright, Tommy Reffell, James Botham, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins (c), Leon Brown, Ryan Elias, Corey Domachowski

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Kemsley Mathias, Keiron Assiratti, Teddy Williams, Alex Mann, Tomos Williams, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady.

Scotland (15-1): Kyle Rowe, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Finn Russell (c), Ben White, Matt Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie, Luke Crosbie, Scott Cummins, Richie Gray, Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Pierre Schoeman

Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Alec Hepburn, Elliot Millar-Mills, Sam Skinner, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Ben Healy, Cam Redpath

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe

AAP with staff writers

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