CJ Stander has warned Ireland to beware of rookie France stand-off Matthieu Jalibert’s livewire attacking craft.
Ireland flanker Stander believes uncapped playmaker Jalibert can easily belie his inexperience to dictate the tempo for the new-look France outfit in tomorrow’s NatWest Six Nations opener in Paris.
Teenage star Jalibert has just 15 league appearances for Bordeaux Begles under his belt, but has been thrust into Les Bleus’ starting line-up for Jacques Brunel’s first game at the helm.
Ireland’s back-row of Stander, Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony could be forgiven for licking their lips at the prospect of hunting down an untried No 10 – but the Munster loose-forward insisted Ireland must keep a close eye on France’s latest prodigy.
“He plays a good game, he’s very exciting and tries anything from anywhere, so we’ve got to watch him closely,” said Stander, of 19-year-old Jalibert. “He can bring anything, you don’t know what he’s going to bring, so you’ve got to get in his face and just try to shut him down.
“We try to put pressure on any fly-half we come up against, so it will be no different with Jalibert this weekend. If he’s good enough and he gets a chance then he should grab it. He’s been great when he’s played for his club, so I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play against him.”
France coach Brunel said there was no reason not to blood Jalibert in the game.
Brunel said: “Given that we believed he could play at this level [by calling him up] there is no reason not to blood him.”
Brunel’s Irish counterpart Joe Schmidt has given Leinster lock James Ryan the nod to earn just his fifth cap – dislodging mainstay Devin Toner.
Ryan, 21, will partner Iain Henderson in the engine room, while Bundee Aki and Jacob Stockdale will make their Six Nations debuts.
Former Ireland Under-20s captain Ryan has long been earmarked as a future Test leader, and now has the chance to cement his promise against a powerful French pack.
Asked if Ryan is ready for the expected step up in intensity in Paris, Schmidt replied: “Well one of the reasons he’s in the team is so we can find out.
“We want to be able to keep building in that position. It’s a position we don’t have huge depth in, and we’ve given James an opportunity. We’re really looking forward to seeing what he delivers.”
Stand-off Johnny Sexton copped a host of heavy and late hits as Ireland slipped up 10-9 in Paris two years ago but Schmidt has backed referee Nigel Owens to police any foul play this time out.
Asked if he expects Sexton to receive further rough treatment this weekend, Schmidt replied: “It hasn’t been part of the game in the teams I’ve seen Jacques coach in the past. So I’d hope that it’s not.
“I think the officials are trying really hard to protect all 30 people on the pitch.
“I think it’s been ramped up since we were involved two years ago. It’s not the same referee this time. We hope with the referee we’ve got that it won’t even enter into the fray.”
Like Jalibert, Castres full-back Geoffrey Palis will make his Test debut in Brunel’s first match in charge of Les Bleus.
Ireland have only won three times in Paris in 40 years, but Brunel has installed Schmidt’s side as favourites for the encounter.
Brunel said: “We are facing a side that is full of confidence having come out of 2017 with a lot of quality performances. We are not favourites but we hope that these two weeks we will have constructed a spirit or state of mind which will permit us to compete well.
“I am very happy that people either think we are not very good, even dreadful or just rank bad, and regarded as the fifth country in the tournament. That suits me very well.”