Best: Stockdale and Six Nations debutants must come of age in Paris
James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki will make their Six Nations debuts.
A NatWest 6 Nations debut at the Stade de France will separate the men from the boys, according to Ireland captain Rory Best.
Lock James Ryan, wing Jacob Stockdale and centre Bundee Aki will all make their tournament bow in Paris’ imposing stadium.
Best admitted Test match rugby in Paris’ vast and colourful ground is always an attack on the senses, from the baying home faithful to the brass bands’ constant chorus.
And the British and Irish Lions hooker conceded that how the trio of Six Nations debutants handle their Paris initiation could well prove pivotal to Ireland’s chances of victory.
“At this stage they probably are a little bit unaware as to the magnitude of the game, to come to the Stade de France, the atmosphere, the microscope you’re under in the Six Nations,” said Best.
“It’s probably going to be a bit of a surprise for them, but they are used to big games, and they performed well in the autumn series.
“Sometimes not knowing what’s coming is a good thing, there’s less for you to fear. The big thing is to play the match and not the occasion.
“No matter how much you’ve prepared yourself, even if you’ve been here before, for any player to step out into that stadium and the noise generated, I wouldn’t say it’s so much a shock as a hugely motivating factor.
“You grow up watching the Six Nations games and you hear the noise on the TV as a fan, but stepping into the arena as a player, it is totally different. And how you handle that, I suppose that does separate those who can step up and those who cannot.
“There are probably going to be times when there are small setbacks, that’s natural, but then it’s about how people respond. When times gets tough we have to get tighter as a group.”
France enter the tournament with a new coach in former Italy boss Jacques Brunel and an untried fly-half. Bordeaux Begles’ 19-year-old sensation Matthieu Jalibert has only featured 15 times in France’s Top 14, but Brunel has seen enough to hand him a start against Joe Schmidt’s side.
French rugby has languished in the doldrums since their last Six Nations title in 2010, but Ireland captain Best insists Schmidt’s side still fear Saturday’s opponents.
Asked if France are a team that still scares Ireland, Best replied: “Absolutely. Especially when you look at the way the French clubs perform in Europe and their quality. We know how dangerous they are. They just go out and they play, and they play with confidence.”
The entire Six Nations tournament is widely tipped to boil down to a Grand Slam decider between England and Ireland at Twickenham on March 17 and Best admitted Ireland know the full cost of defeat in Paris.
He added: “I’ve talked a lot already about the pressure. Defeat here would just put so much pressure on you.”