France could mix up XV as PSA suggests Ireland are 'better without Sexton'

Fabien Galthié is likely to name a fairly settled team for this weekend’s clash in Paris.

cameron-woki-and-yoram-moefana-celebrate France's Cameron Woki and Yoram Moefana. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

FRANCE LAST NIGHT added 14 players to their wider Six Nations squad as they move their focus towards the visit of Ireland to Paris on Saturday.

Head coach Fabien Galthié had released a batch of players to their Top 14 clubs over the weekend but has brought the majority of them back into camp to prepare for the Ireland clash.

Among the returning faces is powerful Racing 92 centre Virimi Vakatawa, who could come into contention to face Andy Farrell’s side on Saturday.

It is not expected that les Bleus will make many changes to their team following yesterday’s 37-10 bonus-point win over Italy in Paris, but Galthié does have a number of selection calls to make.

Inside centre Jonathan Danty picked up an ankle injury against the Italians and was subbed off in the 58th minute, with 21-year-old Bordeaux midfielder Yoram Moefana impressing as his replacement.

Even if Danty is fit to face Ireland, Galthié may consider giving Moefana a start alongside the influential Gaël Fickou, although Vakatawa is a more experienced option.

The France boss is also set to ponder a change to the back five of his pack, with Cameron Woki possibly switching to the back row after starting in the second row against Italy.

If Woki moves to the back row, potentially in place of Dylan Cretin, that could allow the abrasive Bernard le Roux to start in France’s second row alongside Paul Willemse.

Toulouse lock Thibaud Flament, who also rejoined the squad yesterday, is another option in this area but le Roux’s physicality has often been important for France in the recent past.

Otherwise, the French team could be unchanged.

The front row of Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, and Uini Atonio were strong against Italy, with powerhouse tighthead Mohamed Haouas still missing after being given a suspended jail sentence for theft.

The replacement front row of Jean-Baptiste Gros, Peato Mauvaka, and Demba Bamba offer France genuine impact in an area of the game that is likely to be pivotal.

Number eight Grégory Alldritt was brilliant once again yesterday, while Anthony Jelonch did enough to continue in the number six jersey.

The halfback pairing of captain Antonine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will be key for the French against Ireland, while the back three of Gabin Villière, Damian Penaud, and Melvyn Jaminet looks set to start again.

Bordeaux out-half Mathieu Jalibert missed out yesterday after only recently overcoming a thigh injury and he could be a new addition to the France bench.

Ireland are expected to have a settled team this weekend too, although Robbie Henshaw and Iain Henderson are back in the mix after missing out on Saturday’s win over Wales.

johnny-sexton-comes-up-against-gregory-alldritt Sexton in action against France in Paris in 2020. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Meanwhile, Montpellier head coach Philippe Saint-André has mischievously suggested that Ireland might be better off without captain and out-half Johnny Sexton.

Interviewed by French newspaper Midi Olympique, former France boss Saint-André was asked if Ireland are too dependent on Sexton.

“Less and less, I find,” said Saint-André.

“In fact, to be honest, they are maybe better without him.

“I like Ross Byrne, he is capable of exceptional things. Yes, Sexton is an icon, he remains the starter, but Byrne has played more than him this season at Leinster. They have a new generation who are showing up well, who are interesting.”

Byrne is not currently part of Ireland’s Six Nations squad.

Within French camp, they will be expecting Sexton to lead a strong Irish challenge at Stade de France this weekend.

“We must regather ourselves to be ready to go in six days’ time against Ireland,” said France team manager Raphaël Ibañez last night.

“The Irish performance against Wales was no real surprise. They’re ranked fourth in the world and justified that place with an accomplished performance.

“It’s a really exciting challenge that awaits us and the next six days must see us perfect ourselves in training so we’re primed when the whistle goes.

“It will be a super exciting week for all of us, it’s obvious we have to move up a level.”

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