France v Ireland kicks off the Six Nations in Marseille on Friday, as Les Bleus go on the road for the 2024 tournament

This summer’s Olympic Games in Paris has put France’s usual Six Nations home, the 80,000-capacity Stade de France, out of commission for this year’s tournament.

So, Les Bleus have gone out on the road – they host Ireland at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Friday, welcome Italy to Lille’s Stade Pierre Mauroy on 25 February, and round off their campaign against England at the OL Stadium, in Lyon on 16 March, as well as travelling to Edinburgh and Cardiff for their five matches this year.

Related: Why are France not playing at the Stade de France?

It’s only the second time that the France men’s team have played a Six Nations’ home match away from the relative safety of Saint-Denis. The first time was back in 2018, when they entertained Italy at the home of French Ligue 1 football side Marseille – or Olympique de Marseille, to use their Sunday name.

But the venue is not entirely terra incognita for Irish rugby teams or fans.

Players from Ireland in Marseille, a potted history

Leinster players – who make up a large part of Andy Farrell’s visiting Ireland squad – and loyal Leinster fans will remember the venue, with no little dismay, from a previous visit in May 2022, when they lost the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle, thanks to a late try from Arthur Retiere.

It is, however, a first-time venue for the Ireland national team. And while most of the preview speculation has focused on the on-pitch action, that’s not the question, here. This is: What, exactly, can fans expect at the 67,847-capacity stadium?

Read more: Why is Antoine Dupont not playing for France in the Six Nations?

Friday’s Six Nations opener – and possible decider, between the fourth and second-placed sides in World Rugby’s men’s rankings – is a sell-out. So, ‘loud’ is a given.

So is ‘excitement’ and ‘anticipation’ and ‘intensity’. And expectation. Fervour for the France men’s rugby team has rarely, if ever, been higher, despite the disappointment of October’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to South Africa.

In fact, home fans will demand – loudly – a reaction from their team. And this is Marseille. They add a little extra, here.

France head coach Fabien Galthié said at the team announcement on Wednesday: “We could have filled three Stade Velodromes (for the match)”, such was the anticipation for a meeting that could have graced the World Cup final in November. “We’re where we want to be and we’ve got what we want: a public that supports us,” he said. “The French team loves Stade Velodrome very much.”

The intensity of the Orange Velodrome

Any Leinster fans who made the fateful trip over to France’s second city nearly two years ago will be able to testify about volume and intensity levels inside the ground.

Ireland in Marseille

Damian Penaud salutes the crowd (Getty Images)

But, in case there’s any doubt, former Bleus captain Fabien Pelous said in a recent radio interview that the Velodrome is the venue in France where, “spectators shout the loudest”. There’s no doubt, then, that what the crowd may lack in nearly 13,000 absent throats compared to Stade de France, they will make up for with pure passion – first when La Marseillaise goes a capella, and later when the match is under way.

Before their World Cup match against Namibia at the same stadium, France tested the waters in Marseille against South Africa in November 2022.

Les Bleus’ back row Charles Ollivon later said of that night, as France rode their luck and wave after wild wave of support from the crowd to win 30-26: “We didn’t understand what was happening because there was so much noise. We couldn’t hear ourselves speak.

Read more: France Six Nations squad: Galthié’s team for Ireland confirmed

“The atmosphere remains in that cauldron, the noise remains, the emotions remain, the feelings remain. I thought the ground itself was shaking.”

And head coach Galthié added that it’s a stadium that Les Bleus enjoy playing in. “It has a Mediterranean fervour,” he said ahead of Ireland in Marseille.

Les Bleus’ Six Nations 2024 roadshow will almost certainly be a blast, and it’s set to open with a very big, very loud and very intense bang in Marseille. On and off the pitch.

The Velodrome will also host the Top 14 final in June. Expect more of the same, then. Normal French international rugby service will resume at Stade de France on 9 November, when they play Japan.

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