World Rugby has no plans to issue any public explanation regarding the controversial decision not to award Scotland what would have been a match-winning try in last Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations defeat by France at Murrayfield, the PA news agency understands.

The Scots – trailing 20-16 – thought they had secured victory when replacement lock Sam Skinner pushed through and appeared to ground the ball on the line under a ruck of bodies as the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark.

Referee Nic Berry’s on-field decision was “no try”, and after several minutes of high drama while footage was reviewed from various angles, TMO Brian MacNeice, having initially suggested he could see the ball on the ground, advised that there was “no conclusive evidence” to change the original call, much to the hosts’ dismay.

“I just don’t understand how the referee didn’t see it,” former Scotland international Craig Chalmers told PA on Monday. “He should have got in closer to it and put his hands in and had a better look.”

Head coach Gregor Townsend was similarly bewildered by the process that led to the try not being awarded. “I don’t understand the rationale,” he said in his post-match media briefing on Saturday.

“When you see the pictures, and when you also see the conversation, they have already said between them that the ball has been placed on the tryline.”

When asked last weekend if Scotland would be seeking further explanation from World Rugby, Townsend said: “It doesn’t really matter.

“We’ll get feedback, we do regularly, and that’ll be one of some incidents we’ll ask for clarification on, but it doesn’t change the outcome, unfortunately.”

Townsend regularly liaises with World Rugby regarding issues arising from matches and he wrote to the governing body after the France game, as he had done the previous week when seeking clarification over the number of penalties that went against his side in their victory away to Wales.

The head coach spoke with referee Berry after the France match and communication lines remain open between Scottish Rugby and the sport’s governing body, but Scotland are not demanding or expecting an apology or an admission that a mistake was made regarding Skinner’s disallowed try.

Despite the ferocity of the backlash, World Rugby will be sticking to their stance of not commenting publicly on specific officials’ decisions and are not expected to issue any clarification to clear the situation up in the public domain.

Although there remains a deep sense of injustice among Scotland’s players, coaches and supporters, the furore surrounding Saturday’s pivotal last-gasp flashpoint appears to be subsiding.

Gregor Townsend felt Scotland were robbed of victory over France as he expressed bewilderment that the officials failed to award them a try in the last action of a dramatic Murrayfield showdown.

Les Bleus claimed a 20-16 win in Edinburgh to get their Guinness Six Nations campaign up and running – but only after referee Nic Berry and TMO Brian MacNeice spent several minutes deliberating over whether home substitute Sam Skinner had grounded the ball on the try-line before deciding that it had been held up by the boot of French replacement Yoram Moefana.

Scotland’s supporters, players and staff – having seen pictures of the incident on the big screen – were convinced they were about to be awarded a match-winning try, and the officials were loudly booed by the home crowd when they stuck with the original call not to give the score.

“We were celebrating in the coaches’ box having seen the pictures of the ball being placed down on the tryline after having been on the player’s boot,” said head coach Townsend, visibly angered.

“That was also after hearing the communication to the referee from the TMO to say that the ball started on the foot and then went on the ground.

“The ref then says, ‘I can also see that (ball) on the ground’ then their last interaction was ‘hang on, let’s look at that other angle….yeah, it’s inconclusive now, stick with your on-field decision’.

“It was TMO-driven. If the referee is seeing the pictures we were all seeing in the stadium, maybe it’s on his shoulders as well to say, ‘that’s the ball down, that’s a try’. But the TMO was the one who changed his mind and said, ‘stick with your on-field decision.’

“I don’t understand the rationale. When you see the pictures, and when you also see the conversation, they have already said between them that the ball has been placed on the tryline.”

The Scots led for most of the match after taking a seventh-minute lead through Ben White.

France, who also scored a first-half try through Gael Fickou, managed to survive 10 minutes with 14 men after Uini Atonio was sin-binned just before the break and eventually got themselves ahead for the first time in the 70th minute through Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s try.

“I’m absolutely gutted for the players,” said Townsend. “The way the game was going in the second half, I didn’t think there would be any points scored at one stage – we were in control.

“But we did make an error that led to a scrum that led to a try. At the time, I thought it was going to be really difficult to score the required five points.

“It was then a fantastic effort to win the ball back, for Kyle Rowe to make his break and for Finn (Russell) to win the ball back and set us up on the tryline.

“The emotions straight after that when I saw the pictures were, ‘what a fantastic win, what a team to come back.

“To play so well, go behind and come back, what a great victory for our supporters, then it’s taken away from you.

“It’s sport, we know that, and we have to be better. That’s why you play and coach – to win but also to get better. We have to make sure we take winning and losing out of the hands of referees and TMOs.”

Asked if he felt the officials had done their jobs properly, Townsend said: “I’ll leave that to you guys to decide.

“All I can say is that we were celebrating a win, our players and a lot of our supporters were by the pictures we saw. We could hear the conversations.

“Gavin Hastings (former Scotland international) was in front of us, and the media were turning round a few times as well to ask, and I’m saying, ‘yeah, it’s a try’.

“I’ll leave it to you guys to make any comment more than that, but we believe it was a try.”

Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s late try proved pivotal as France dug out a dramatic 20-16 Guinness Six Nations victory over Scotland at Murrayfield – but only after a controversial decision not to award the hosts a try in the last action of the match.

Les Bleus – who lost 38-17 at home to Ireland in their opener last weekend – looked in danger of starting the championship with back-to-back defeats as they trailed for most of the match after Ben White’s seventh-minute try.

However, Bielle-Biarrey’s moment of inspiration in the 70th minute allowed the French – who had scored in the first half through Gael Fickou – to get themselves in front.

The Scots – looking to make it back-to-back wins after their triumph in Wales last weekend – staged a late rally and thought they had claimed the victory when they forced their way over the line after the 80-minute mark, but following a lengthy TMO review, it was deemed they had not grounded the ball.

Scotland – already missing key back-three members Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham through injury – were forced into a late change in the back division when wing Kyle Steyn withdrew after his wife went into labour. The uncapped Harry Paterson, who was not in the initial 23, was enlisted to start at full-back, with Kyle Rowe – due to be starting in the 15 jersey – shifting to the wing.

The Scots went ahead with a superbly worked try in the seventh minute, with some quick passing from Duhan van der Merwe, Paterson and Huw Jones on the right paving the way for Toulon scrum-half White, who did well to avoid dropping the ball before holding off the attention of two Frenchmen trying to grapple him as he slid gleefully over the line. Finn Russell converted.

The visitors got their first points in the 12th minute through a Thomas Ramos penalty. And they looked certain to get themselves in front three minutes later when Fickou saw a gap on the left and went for it, but Van der Merwe got back to made a vital challenge just before the line, which was deemed by the officials to be legal, much to the frustration of Les Bleus.

The Scots generally looked the more assured of the two sides, however, and a couple of Russell penalties in the 22nd minute and then just before the half hour, nudged them 10 points clear.

A stark reminder of the French threat came in the 31st minute when they worked an opening on the right for Fickou who forced his way over the line despite the best efforts of Jones to halt him. Ramos converted, bringing his team within three points of their hosts.

The French – who played the majority of the Ireland game with 14 men last weekend – suffered a blow two minutes before the interval when Uini Atonio was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Matt Fagerson.

The Scots were camped in front of the French line for the closing minutes of the first half but were unable to reward themselves with further points as they went in at the interval with a slender 13-10 lead.

Fagerson – who had been in the wars in the first half – was replaced by Saracens back-rower for the start of the second period.

Following his indiscipline, Atonio would have been hugely relieved to return to the fray with no further scoreline damage incurred by his side.

There was a sense that the failure to take advantage of the prop’s time in the sin bin might come back to bite them, but another penalty from Russell in the 59th minute opened up a six-point advantage and eased some of the tension among the home support.

Just as the hosts looked to have a good level of control, France turned the game in their favour in the 70th minute when Bielle-Biarrey raced on to his own kick over the top and touched down on the left. Ramos converted to put Les Bleus a point ahead.

The full-back then added a penalty in the 77th minute, ensuring the Scots would need a try to won the game. They momentarily thought they had it in the dying moments before the officials cut short their celebrations.

Recently-appointed co-captain Rory Darge will start Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations match at home to France following six weeks out with a knee injury.

The 23-year-old Glasgow flanker takes over the number seven jersey from previous skipper Jamie Ritchie, who drops out of the 23 altogether, in one of three changes – all in the forward-line – to the team that started the 27-26 win away to Wales.

Darge, who has recovered quicker than anticipated from an injury sustained away to Edinburgh on the last weekend of December, is listed as co-captain alongside stand-off Finn Russell for the Murrayfield showdown with a French side aiming to bounce back from their chastening 38-17 home defeat by Ireland.

Number eight Jack Dempsey and lock Grant Gilchrist, who was suspended last weekend, return to the side in place of Luke Crosbie and Richie Gray, both of whom picked up tournament-ending injuries in Cardiff.

The backs department is unchanged, meaning Kyle Rowe, who made his first international start in Wales, continues at full-back in the absence of the injured Blair Kinghorn.

On-form Saracens back-rower Andy Christie has been named among the subs after missing out on the 23 last weekend.

Defence coach Steve Tandy insisted Scotland would have no concerns about throwing recently-appointed co-captain Rory Darge into Saturday’s showdown with France following six weeks on the sidelines.

The 23-year-old flanker sustained a knee injury while playing for Glasgow against Edinburgh on December 30 and has not played since.

He was initially rated doubtful for the entire championship but has recovered quicker than anticipated and is expected to be ready for this weekend’s match against Les Bleus.

Darge’s return to contention is particularly timely after fellow flanker Luke Crosbie and veteran lock Richie Gray were ruled out for the rest of the tournament with shoulder and bicep injuries respectively.

“Dargey’s trained and he’s looking good,” reported Tandy on Tuesday. “He came through training last week, he trained again today, so all being well in the rest of the training week he’ll be available.”

Asked if he felt Darge could slot straight back into the Test XV having not played for almost a month and a half, Tandy said: “Definitely. He’s done it before, after injuries.

“Knowing Rory and the guy he is, how diligent he is and how he looks at and studies the game, we have no doubts. Physically, it feels like he’s adding layer on layer as he gets a little bit older.

“He’s physically ready and even when they are injured, the boys are still lifting (weights) – it’s not as if they’re sitting there doing nothing. They’re active in and around what the strength and conditioning guys and the medical team want.”

Tandy lamented the loss of back-rower Crosbie and second-rower Gray after the pair – both of whom started the match – picked up tournament-ending injuries in Saturday’s 27-26 victory away to Wales.

“First and foremost, with the characters they are, they’re awesome individuals,” said the coach. “Richie brings lots of experience around the group and he’s got better with age.

“He’s great to work with and you see the energy and clarity he brings to the group. He will be sorely missed.

“Luke has fought so hard to get to the international scene. You see the warrior he is on the field, but there is also the character he is and how he leads in the training environment, how he speaks in meetings.

“We’ve got a great squad though. If you look at the back-rowers, there are loads of form players so we’re lucky enough to have an abundance in those positions.

“If someone misses out, everyone else is ready to step into the shirt.”

Tandy admitted there were “lots of learnings” for Scotland after a game in Cardiff where they went dangerously close to squandering a 27-0 lead.

However, he also felt there were plenty of positives to be drawn from their first win in the Welsh capital in 22 years, ahead of back-to-back home games against France and England.

“It’s important not to get too far ahead,” said Tandy. “We’ve had a really good result, going to Wales and getting that job done, but now it’s just about focusing on France.

“Coming back to Murrayfield is massive. We’ve got to improve bits of our game and continue lots of the stuff we did in the first half and at the back end of the Wales game.”

Scotland have suffered further injury woe after forwards Luke Crosbie and Richie Gray were ruled out for the remainder of the Six Nations.

Edinburgh back-rower Crosbie went off in the second half of Saturday’s 27-26 victory away to Wales with a shoulder issue, while Glasgow second-rower Gray was forced off in the first half with a bicep problem.

The injuries have now been assessed and Scotland confirmed on Tuesday morning that the pair – who both started in Cardiff – will be sidelined for the rest of the tournament.

Scotland were already missing some key players going into last weekend’s opener as co-captain Rory Darge was not deemed fit enough to feature due to a knee injury sustained at the end of December, while Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn and Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham were ruled out of at least the first two matches with knee and quad problems respectively.

The Scots are hopeful that Darge will be fit enough to return in Saturday’s Murrayfield showdown with France, which would offset the loss of Crosbie in the back row, while Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist is available after suspension to take the place of Gray.

Andy Farrell insists he had no concerns about Ireland suffering a World Cup hangover during Friday’s thumping Guinness Six Nations win over France.

Both sides went into a blockbuster championship opener in Marseille on the back of having their dreams of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup shattered by narrow quarter-finals exits.

Reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland emphatically responded with a 38-17 bonus-point success at Stade Velodrome to begin their title defence with a bang and help ease memories of a painful last-eight loss to New Zealand in October.

“There are no hangovers with us,” said head coach Farrell.

“There’s a realisation of where we’re at and where we need to go to next and what we need to learn and that’s it.

“Hangovers are for tomorrow; we’re three months down the line – that’s a big hangover, if you can’t get over it in that time.

“We talk about our past performances all the time, sometimes we go back three years to say we learnt this or whatever.

“Of course we’ll learn big things from the All Blacks defeat but it’s not a hangover, it’s just the next step in how we progress going forward as a team and that’s how it should be in my opinion.”

Tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher stunned France to silence the majority of a capacity crowd at Stade Velodrome.

Les Bleus had little answer to their dominant visitors and played around 60 minutes of the match with 14 men after Paul Willemse was sin-binned and then sent off following high tackles on Andrew Porter and Caelan Doris.

Despite Ireland registering their biggest victory away to France, new captain Peter O’Mahony, who succeeded Johnny Sexton following the World Cup, believes there is significant room for improvement moving towards a round-two clash with Italy.

 

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“We’ve been on a journey for a long time and we’ve had lots of great experiences and banked them and we’ve had some tough ones and banked them as well,” said O’Mahony.

“It’s always about getting better and it was another step for the group.

“We spoke about it being a huge occasion for us but, at the same time, it’s just another game for us and how calm and composed we could really be in an environment like that out there.

“It was a great test for the group. We’ve plenty to work on but there were parts of the game that felt like a good performance.”

Andy Farrell hailed Ireland’s ruthlessness and composure after their Guinness Six Nations title defence was launched with a record-breaking five-try demolition of 14-man France.

The reigning Grand Slam champions propelled themselves into pole position for further championship glory by dismantling the ragged pre-tournament favourites 38-17 in Marseille.

Ireland’s bonus-point success, secured by tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, plus 13 points from Jack Crowley, was their largest winning margin away to France.

Les Bleus’ quest for victory at a largely subdued Stade Velodrome was damaged by the 32nd-minute dismissal of lock Paul Willemse.

“We’d take any type of win here in Marseille to kick off the Six Nations but the more the game was going on, the more you saw a performance building,” said head coach Farrell.

“I thought we got exactly what we deserved in the end.

“Our composure, it wasn’t all singing all dancing and the French side was always going to pose questions and the crowd was always going to get behind them.

“But we managed to silence them quite a lot through good composure.

“The main thing for me would be our ability to stay on it for the full 80 minutes and keep attacking the game.

“When you’re playing against 14 men for a long period, sometimes subconsciously you tend to shut up shop a little bit more,

“I thought our intent was pretty good and we were pretty ruthless when we needed to be, then obviously on top of that I thought our line-out in attack and defence was outstanding.”

Both sides came into a mouth-watering tournament curtain-raiser on the back of agonising World Cup quarter-finals exits.

Ireland began in the ascendancy but received a helping hand from the indiscipline of Willemse, who was sent off in the 32nd minute following a high hit on Caelan Doris having previously been sin-binned for a similar challenge on Andrew Porter.

Scores either side of half-time from Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues and seven points from the boot of Thomas Ramos gave the hosts hope but Farrell’s men were a class above.

New Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony, who spent a spell in the sin bin in the aftermath of Gabrillagues’ try for bringing down the maul, said: “I don’t think it gets any better really.

“With the stress of the last couple of days I’d have given the whole lot up for a win tonight.

“Away from home, first game up, Friday night, Marseille, the Velodrome, I’d have been a happy man packing the whole lot in tomorrow morning if you’d given me the chance to take a win.

“It’s the biggest margin that we’ve beaten France by.

“I remember as a young fella watching Irish teams and you’d be hoping that they’d hang on in there, whereas it’s a different animal now.”

France were often rudderless in the absence of star man Antoine Dupont, who is sitting out this year’s championship to focus on his country’s sevens squad for the Paris Olympics.

Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthie said: “It’s clear that the attack game wasn’t really up to scratch, we dropped the ball, had less speed. We need to up our game in attack and defence.

“The important thing is we pick ourselves up and assume that defeat.”

Asked about Willemse’s indiscretions, Galthie replied: “I’m not going to speak about the future of this great player who was doing all he could to defend for the French team.

“They were technical errors, we know the referees don’t give any ground when the head is involved and that is quite right.”

Ireland ruthlessly capitalised on the absence of Antonie Dupont to launch their Guinness Six Nations title defence with a stunning 38-17 bonus-point demolition of 14-man France.

Both sides came into a mouth-watering tournament curtain-raiser in Marseille on the back of agonising World Cup quarter-finals exits.

Tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher ensured it was the reigning Grand Slam champions who stylishly bounced back at the first attempt to propel themselves into pole position for further championship glory.

France’s quest for victory at a largely subdued Stade Velodrome was damaged by the indiscipline of lock Paul Willemse, who was sent off in the 32nd minute following a high hit on Caelan Doris having previously been sin-binned for a similar challenge on Andrew Porter.

Scores from Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues and seven points from the boot of Thomas Ramos gave the pre-tournament favourites hope.

But Ireland, aided by 13 points from Jack Crowley on his first Six Nations start, deservedly romped to another statement victory of the Andy Farrell era.

The two teams came into a blockbuster showdown seeking to ease disappointment at falling short in their efforts to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in the autumn and having each lost influential captains.

Dupont’s temporary unavailability, as he focuses on his country’s sevens squad for this year’s Paris Olympics, afforded a start to scrum-half Maxime Lucu, while Crowley was given a chance to stake his claim as long-term fly-half successor to the retired Johnny Sexton.

Farrell’s men began in the ascendancy and led through an early Crowley penalty before Willemse was ordered off for ploughing into prop Porter.

A relieved Willemse had just learnt his yellow card would not be upgraded to red on review when Gibson-Park latched on to a fine Bundee Aki offload to ensure Ireland capitalised on their temporary numerical advantage.

Three points from France full-back Ramos’ penalty briefly improved the mood in the stands before Beirne collected Crowley’s pass to easily beat Jonathan Danty and dive over under the posts at the end of sustained Irish pressure.

Willemse’s reprieve proved only to be fleeting as he was dismissed eight minutes before the break following another dangerous challenge, this time on Doris.

Ireland were in complete control but head coach Farrell would have been frustrated to only hold a 17-10 half-time lead after Penaud, who moments early was repelled by a superb Hugo Keenan tackle, produced a spectacular finish to Matthieu Jalibert’s pass.

The visitors set aside the setback to restore their 14-point advantage six minutes after the restart as Munster wing Nash marked his first Test start with a memorable maiden try after being freed by Doris.

Deprived of Dupont, France were largely rudderless in attack.

But Fabien Galthie’s side again cut the deficit when Gabrillagues’ score was awarded following a lengthy review, an incident compounded from an Irish perspective by new captain Peter O’Mahony being sin-binned for bringing down the maul.

Ireland once more earned breathing space 18 minutes from time when Sheehan peeled off a rolling maul to finish his own line-out.

The staggeringly-simple score secured a merited bonus point for the dominant visitors and proved to be the fatal blow to French resistance.

Yet there was more punishment to come for the ragged hosts as replacement hooker Kelleher bulldozed over to cap a fine Ireland performance and ramp up pressure on Les Bleus head coach Galthie.

Reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland launch their Guinness Six Nations title defence against pre-tournament favourites France in Marseille.

Antoine Dupont and Johnny Sexton will be notable absentees as the two sides go into a new era on the back of agonising Rugby World Cup exits.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points ahead of Friday’s tantalising championship curtain-raiser.

World Cup hangovers? Grand Slam decider?

France versus Ireland was widely touted as a potential World Cup final. The two nations were Test rugby’s top-ranked teams in the build-up to the tournament before their campaigns ended in the space of 24 hours with enthralling quarter-final defeats. Ireland’s 17-match winning run was halted by a 28-24 loss to New Zealand in Paris, before the hosts were beaten 29-28 in the same city by eventual champions South Africa. Both will be eager to respond to those disappointments in a mouth-watering fixture which has ultimately proved to be a Grand Slam decider in the past two years.

Absent stars

Dupont’s decision to focus on France’s sevens squad for this year’s Paris Olympics has deprived the championship of its leading star. The scrum-half has been crowned player of the tournament in the three of the past four years. He will be replaced in the number nine jersey by Maxime Lucu, with Gregory Alldritt taking on the captaincy. Ireland, meanwhile, must move on following the retirement of talismanic former captain Sexton. The 38-year-old – the Six Nations’ record points scorer with 566 – has left a void on and off the field. Flanker Peter O’Mahony is Ireland’s new skipper, while Jack Crowley, Ciaran Frawley and Harry Byrne will compete for the fly-half role.

Sexton’s long-term successor

To coin an Andy Farrell phrase, Crowley is the “next cab off the rank” in the contest to become Sexton’s long-term successor. The Munster player served as understudy at the World Cup and has been selected for his full Six Nations debut. Crowley’s only previous championship appearance was a three-minute cameo away to Italy last February, while just three of his nine caps have come as a starter. Yet the 24-year-old is the most experienced out-half in his country’s 34-man squad. Frawley, who has been named on the bench, has only 40 minutes of Test action to his name, while his Leinster team-mate Byrne has not featured at international level since playing 56 minutes across substitute outings against the USA and Argentina in 2021.

Unfamiliar surroundings

Stade de France in Paris became a second home for Ireland during last autumn’s World Cup. Farrell’s men had hoped to play five successive matches there but had to settle for three following defeat to the All Blacks. There will be no swift return to Saint-Denis – the scene of memorable wins over South Africa and Scotland – for the Irish as France are this year playing their tournament matches away from the capital due to the upcoming Olympics. Stade Velodrome will be unfamiliar surroundings for many of Farrell’s squad, albeit the Leinster contingent suffered a heart-breaking, last-gasp loss to La Rochelle there in the 2022 Champions Cup final.

Opportunity knocks for McCarthy and Nash

In addition to the selection of Crowley, Farrell has handed Six Nations debuts to Test rookies Joe McCarthy and Calvin Nash. The head coach has shown plenty of faith in 22-year-old Leinster lock McCarthy by picking him ahead of experienced duo James Ryan and Iain Henderson. Meanwhile, Munster wing Nash has an opportunity to capitalise on the misfortune of injured star Mack Hansen. The 26-year-old won his only previous cap as a replacement in a World Cup warm-up win over Italy but has been in fine form for his province. “All you need in life is an opportunity, and it’s a big one for Calvin,” said Farrell.

Andy Farrell has urged Ireland to be courageous when they take on formidable pre-tournament favourites France in a “mouth-watering” Guinness Six Nations curtain-raiser.

The reigning Grand Slam champions are seeking to return to winning ways on Friday evening in Marseille following an agonising 28-24 World Cup quarter-final exit to New Zealand.

Although Les Bleus are without star man Antoine Dupont for this year’s championship, Ireland’s title defence in the post-Johnny Sexton era could not have begun with a tougher fixture.

Head coach Farrell, whose four changes from the loss to the All Blacks on October 14 include starts for Test rookies Joe McCarthy, Calvin Nash and Jack Crowley, wants his players to embrace the challenge at Stade Velodrome.

“We all realise it’s a huge game. It’s mouth-watering, isn’t it?” the Englishman said, according to the Irish Examiner.

“It will be a great game to watch, there’s no doubt about that and the stadium, the atmosphere, it being the first game of the Six Nations after a World Cup, if you can’t get excited about that, you’re in the wrong place.

“For us, it’s just living up to our own expectations, we expect to perform on the big stage and it doesn’t really get any bigger than this one.

“The exciting thing for me is are we brave enough, have we got enough courage to go and do what we said we’re going to do and obviously we’re playing against a world-class side.

“But if you want to be successful, if you want to try to be the best, then you’ve got to beat the best in places like this and the occasion doesn’t get much bigger.

“We’ve got to relish those types of occasions and go after them.”

Farrell has picked 22-year-old Leinster lock McCarthy ahead of experienced duo James Ryan and Iain Henderson, while Munster wing Nash, 26, will also make his Six Nations debut, in place of the injured Mack Hansen.

Meanwhile, Munster number 10 Crowley, 24, will start in the championship for the first time following the retirement of former captain Sexton.

“He’s a confident kid, Jack,” said Farrell, who has selected Leinster’s Ciaran Frawley on the bench as back-up fly-half.

“It’s tough for young kids, especially with responsibilities like in his position but he feels very comfortable in being able to do that.

“How you run a week is pretty important and you’re making sure that the rest of your team-mates feel that you’re in control. He’s obviously learned a lot from Johnny in that regard.

“But the only thing that matters is the performance, isn’t it? Taking that preparation – that’s been good, very good actually, in camp – and transferring it to a performance that we all want to see.”

Centre Robbie Henshaw comes in for Leinster team-mate Garry Ringrose, who has a shoulder issue, in the other alteration to Ireland’s starting XV.

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 Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland.

Toulouse scrum-half 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’ number nine 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 number eight Gregory Alldritt has taken on the captaincy from Dupont, who was crowned player of the tournament in the three of the past four years.

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 29-28 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to eventual winners South Africa on October 15.

 

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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.

France, who were dethroned as Grand Slam champions by Ireland last year, are title favourites going into the competition.

“In four years, there hasn’t been a game without a requirement to win,” said Galthie.

“We’ve always heard the music in the background of requiring a win.

“There will be obstacles. The obstacles are the opponents. Before the World Cup, Ireland were world number one, now they’re world number two.

“We’re conscious of the run of games we have, South Africa, now Ireland, who also lost in the quarter-finals (to New Zealand).

“Defeats are part of the journey, as are obstacles. We like it, pressure, requirements, it’s not a problem for us, we’re here for that. We’re solid.”

Munster wing Calvin Nash and Leinster lock Joe McCarthy will make their Guinness Six Nations debuts in Ireland’s championship opener against France but centre Garry Ringrose misses out due to a shoulder issue.

Jack Crowley has been selected at fly-half for Friday evening’s curtain-raiser in Marseille following the retirement of former captain Johnny Sexton after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Andy Farrell’s starting XV, led by flanker Peter O’Mahony, shows just four changes from Ireland’s 28-24 quarter-final defeat to New Zealand on October 14, with Robbie Henshaw coming in for the sidelined Ringrose in the other alteration.

Twenty-six-year-old Nash, who won his only previous cap as a replacement in a 33-17 World Cup warm-up win over Italy last August, will line up on the right flank in place of the injured Mack Hansen.

McCarthy, 22, featured twice at the tournament in France and will partner Tadhg Beirne in the second row after being preferred to experienced duo James Ryan and Iain Henderson.

Ringrose was an option to switch positions and fill the void left by Connacht star Hansen but he has been ruled out by a bang on a shoulder.

The 29-year-old Leinster co-captain is expected to be back in contention for the round-two clash with Italy on February 11.

His absence sees Henshaw return to midfield, alongside 2023 World Rugby player of the year nominee Bundee Aki.

Munster number 10 Crowley, who has nine international caps, will make his full Six Nations debut to stake his claim as long-term successor to Sexton.

The 24-year-old’s only previous action in the championship was a three-minute cameo against Italy 12 months ago.

Ciaran Frawley, who – like Nash – won his one and only Test cap by coming on against the Azzurri last summer, will provide fly-half cover from the bench, while Harry Byrne – the younger brother of the injured Ross Byrne – must wait for his opportunity.

Title holders Ireland defeated France 32-19 in Dublin last February en route to dethroning their rivals as Grand Slam champions.

Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong continue in an unchanged front row, with fellow Leinster players Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris joining new skipper O’Mahony at the base of the pack.

Jamison Gibson-Park retains the scrum-half role ahead of Conor Murray, with James Lowe on the left wing and Hugo Keenan at full-back.

Veteran prop Cian Healy returns to the bench at Stade Velodrome after missing the World Cup with a calf injury.

The 36-year-old loosehead is joined by Ronan Kelleher, Finlay Bealham, Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Murray and Frawley.

Ireland team: H Keenan (Leinster); C Nash (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Lowe (Leinster); J Crowley (Munster), J Gibson-Park (Leinster); A Porter (Leinster), D Sheehan (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), J McCarthy (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster, capt), J van der Flier (Leinster), C Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: R Kelleher (Leinster), C Healy (Leinster), F Bealham (Connacht), J Ryan (Leinster), R Baird (Leinster), J Conan (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), C Frawley (Leinster).

France scrum-half Maxime Lucu will start in place of the absent Antoine Dupont for Friday evening’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland.

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

With Dupont missing the tournament in order to focus on sevens ahead of this year’s Paris Olympics, understudy Lucu will partner Bordeaux team-mate Matthieu Jalibert for the championship curtain-raiser in Marseille.

Uncapped Racing 92 scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec, 21, will provide cover for Lucu from the bench at Stade Velodrome.

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

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

La Rochelle number eight Gregory Alldritt has taken on the captaincy from Dupont, who was named player of the championship in three of the past four years.

Cyril Baille, hooker Peato Mauvaka and Uini Atonio continue in an unchanged front row, with new skipper Alldritt joined at the back of the pack by flankers Cros and Charles Ollivon.

Behind the half-back pairing of Lucu and Jalibert are centres Jonathan Danty and Gael Fickou, while Damian Penaud, who scored six tries at the World Cup, lines up on the right wing and Thomas Ramos starts at full-back.

Le Garrec and Bielle-Biarrey are joined among the replacements by Julien Marchand, Reda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, Cameron Woki and Paul Boudehent.

France went on to clinch the Grand Slam after beating Ireland 30-24 in Paris two years ago.

Current title holders Ireland avenged that defeat 12 months ago with a 32-19 Dublin win en route to a tournament clean sweep.

France team: T Ramos (Toulouse); D Penaud (Bordeaux), G Fickou (Racing 92), J Danty (La Rochelle), Y Moefana (Bordeaux); M Jalibert (Bordeaux), M Lucu (Bordeaux); C Baille (Toulouse), P Mauvaka (Toulouse), U Atonio (La Rochelle), P Gabrillagues (Stade Francais), P Willemse (Montpellier), F Cros (Toulouse), C Ollivon (Toulon), G Alldritt (La Rochelle, capt).

Replacements: J Marchand (Toulouse), R Wardi (La Rochelle), D Aldegheri (Toulouse), R Taofifenua (Lyon), C Woki (Racing 92), P Boudehent (La Rochelle), N Le Garrec (Racing 92), L Bielle-Biarrey (Bordeaux).

It is difficult to look beyond Ireland and France as the principal contenders for this season’s Guinness Six Nations title.

The tournament’s most eagerly-awaited opener for years will unfold between the main two teams on a Friday night in Marseille – and everyone else could be playing catch-up from day one.

There will undoubtedly be many twists and turns along the way, but whichever team triumphs at Stade Velodrome can expect to be nailed on as Six Nations favourites.

In many ways, it should be no surprise given that Ireland are ranked second on World Rugby’s official rankings and France fourth, while Les Bleus won a Grand Slam in 2022 and Ireland replicated the feat last year.

Both teams will also be driven by memories of crushing World Cup disappointment. Backed in many quarters as possible winners, they made quarter-final exits with Ireland losing to New Zealand and France being toppled by South Africa.

Their recent dominance of European rugby cannot be understated, although the bid for silverware this time around takes place without talismanic figures.

Ireland no longer have imperious fly-half Johnny Sexton at the helm following his post-World Cup retirement, and his fellow former world player of the year – genial France scrum-half Antoine Dupont – is playing sevens in pursuit of a Paris Olympics dream.

Both absences will inevitably be felt, yet there is still comfortably sufficient squad depth for Ireland and France to remain a good furlong or two clear of the field.

They are not the only nations dealing with key losses, as retirements, injuries and tales of the unexpected have taken centre stage.

The pre-Six Nations headlines were dominated by Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit’s shock decision to quit rugby and target a career in American football.

It all unfolded during a frantic hour ahead of Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s Six Nations squad announcement, and Rees-Zammit was added to a list of absentees that included Test rugby retirees Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, who is now based in Japan, and an injured trio of Taulupe Faletau, Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake.

England knew in late November that their World Cup skipper Owen Farrell would miss the Six Nations, having opted to take an international break as he prioritised his and his family’s mental wellbeing.

The Saracens fly-half has subsequently signed for French club Racing 92 on a two-year deal from July, which will extend his spell away from Test rugby as Rugby Football Union rules prevents players plying their trade abroad playing for England.

Outside of Farrell’s situation, Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs and Mako Vunipola – more than 300 England caps between them – have left the international stage, but a crop of exciting newcomers include Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Northampton fly-half Fin Smith and Sale’s Tom Roebuck.

England appear best-equipped to head the chasing pack, but like Wales and Scotland, who meet on the opening weekend in Cardiff, they will need to start strongly in a competition where momentum is key.

Italy, meanwhile, face a tall order to avoid finishing bottom of the pile for a ninth successive campaign, although they have a new head coach in Gonzalo Quesada and leading Italian club Benetton, who contribute 17 players in the national squad, have won seven out of nine United Rugby Championship games this season and hold second spot.

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