France coach Jacques Brunel looks on during a warm-up. Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi
France coach Jacques Brunel looks on during a warm-up. Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi
Matthieu Jalibert will start at flyhalf for France in the Six Nations this weekend. Photo: Michel Euler/AP
Matthieu Jalibert will start at flyhalf for France in the Six Nations this weekend. Photo: Michel Euler/AP

PARIS - France will host the World Cup in five years time and coach Jacques Brunel appeared to have one eye on that objective with his opening Six Nations team selection for Saturday's match against Ireland.

The veteran handler plumped for teenage fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, a player to whom he handed a senior debut at Bordeaux-Begles less than five months ago before he was hired as France coach following the hurried sacking of Guy Noves in December.

While the French selectors will hope Brunel's appointment brings about a change in playing fortunes, the 64-year-old seems to have maintained a search begun by Noves during his ill-fated two-year spell in charge: the quest to find a French equivalent of Jonny Wilkinson or Dan Carter.

At just 19 and with only 15 senior appearances under his belt, Jalibert appears to be a choice for the future despite Brunel's insistence he wants to try and win the 2018 Six Nations title.

And even if he doesn't turn out to be as good as a Wilkinson or Carter, Brunel believes Jalibert could at least emulate versatile former international half-back Frederik Michalak, a player who made his France debut 16 years ago, just a month after turning 19.

"Remember a certain Michalak, for whom everything went very quickly," said Brunel. "It's a bit surprising: we're not used to this kind of professional trajectory whereas the English picked (Owen) Farrell and (George) Ford very early.

"They didn't ask questions, they gave them belief. We're going to try to provide him (Jalibert) with the same conditions and we hope he'll succeed in the same way as those I've just mentioned."

It continues a trend in France over the last year in which a number of talented young half-backs have been thrust onto the international arena. Baptiste Serin was 22 when he spent most of last year's Six Nations as first choice scrum-half before giving way to 20-year-old Antoine Dupont in November.

One of Noves's last acts was to align a stunningly young and inexperienced half-back pair against world champions New Zealand in November, as 21-year-old Anthony Belleau lined up outside Dupont - the French were thumped 38-18.

'Obvious inexperience'

Both will be on the bench against Ireland as hopes are pinned on Jalibert's young shoulders, although Brunel has opted to select 29-year-old Maxime Machenaud as his half-back partner.

"It's about balance because putting Matthieu Jalibert at fly-half, there's an obvious inexperience in that respect," added Brunel.

"We're sure he'll manage but nevertheless we need someone with experience who can take the game by the scruff of the neck, bring a bit of balance to our initiatives and reassure (Jalibert)."

And Brunel gave short shrift to suggestions his side could be on a hiding to nothing.

"I'm very happy that we're no good, useless, rubbish, considered the fifth best (above only Italy) in the competition. That suits me very well," he said defiantly.

For their part, Ireland will be targeting the young playmaker, although South African-born British and Irish Lions flanker CJ Stander insists there would be nothing unusual about that regardless.

"He plays a good game, he's a very exciting player and he tries anything from everywhere," said the Munster back-row forward.

"So, from our side, you've to make sure you get in his face and make sure you get off the line every time."

But Stander added: "We try to do that with all the fly-halves we play against!

"If he's good enough, and he gets the chance and he can grab it, it's great for them to back him and let him play now."

France have won only one of their last seven matches against Ireland, who are lining up a starting XV with more than twice as many caps as their hosts.

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter