Jalibert, Palis make debuts in France team against Ireland

French rugby player Matthieu Jalibert attends during a training session at the National Rugby Center in Marcoussis, south of Paris, France, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. France will face Ireland during their Six Nations tournament match at Stade de France stadium on Saturday Feb. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) Teen flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert and fullback Geoffrey Palis will make their test debuts in France’s Six Nations opener against Ireland on Saturday.

France coach Jacques Brunel named an experimental-looking side Thursday for his first match in charge since replacing Guy Noves, who was fired after failing to win any of the four matches in the November test series.

Only the front row remains untouched, a rare stability in a team lacking confidence and which has not won the tournament since 2010.

”We’re not the favorites, we know that,” Brunel said. ”But I hope we’ve built up enough team spirit to be combative.”

Jalibert has only 15 appearances for club side Bordeaux-Begles in the French Top 14 league.

”Jalibert has settled in well, he’s got his bearings and there is no reason not to start him,” said Brunel, who was Jalibert’s club coach before taking the France job. ”Everyone’s taking an interest in him, he’s mature and he can handle it. He needs to be prepared because the Irish must have looked at (video) tapes and thought `Who’s this guy?”’

Noves has also selected four uncapped players among his reserves, in what is likely to be a stern test for a France team in transition.

The 19-year-old Jalibert will play alongside scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, who will make his 32nd test appearance and will take the kicking duties at Stade de France.

”His experience will be important early on in the game,” Brunel said. ”To help out his flyhalf (Jalibert) with certain duties.”

Palis is known for his calm catching under pressure for Castres in France’s Top 14 league.

”He’s very sure of himself under the opponent’s kicks, which will be very useful against Ireland,” said Brunel, adding that Palis might take the longer penalty kicks.

Although Brunel has picked his most experienced front row, with captain Guilhem Guirado at hooker next to props Jefferson Poirot and Rabah Slimani, lock Arthur Iturria will start his first game in only his second test for France.

Kevin Gourdon, who usually plays at flanker, moves to No. 8 for the first time at international level.

”We’ve chosen him there because he has a bit more assurance, a bit more experience at international level than Marco Tauleigne,” Brunel said, adding that he will use Tauleigne’s ”power” during the course of the match.

In the backs, Teddy Thomas and Virimi Vakatawa start on the wings with Henry Chavancy will combine with Remi Lamerat at center.

France finished third last year and Ireland was second behind England.

France team: Geoffrey Palis, Teddy Thomas, Remi Lamerat, Henry Chavancy, Virimi Vakatawa, Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Machenaud; Kevin Gourdon, Yacouba Camara, Wenceslas Lauret, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Arthur Iturria, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guiardo, Jefferson Poirot. Reserves: Adrien Pelissie, Dany Priso, Cedate Gomes Sa, Paul Gabrillagues, Marco Tauleigne, Antoine Dupont, Anthony Belleau, Benjamin Fall.