PARIS (AP) — France coach Philippe Saint-Andre might finally have found his pair of halfbacks in Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Camille Lopez.
Since taking over from Marc Lievremont after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Saint-Andre has been tinkering with his halfback pairings, starting 13 different combinations. But for the third time in a row, he will stick with the same men as his team seeks a hat trick of victories this autumn against Argentina on Saturday at Stade de France, following convincing wins over Fiji and Australia.
Another win would mark a turnaround in a miserable year marked by a fourth place in the Six Nations, and three consecutive defeats in June against Australia.
Tillous-Borde and Lopez were instrumental during the two recent wins, with the latter producing a clinical display and Tillous-Borde scoring a clever try in the 29-26 win over Australia last Saturday.
“They are working well together, they are performing and combining well, and we wanted to continue with the same pairing,” Saint-Andre said. “Besides, (scrumhalf) Rory Kockott and (flyhalf) Remi Tales know each other very well. Having a goalkicker on the field, and a goalkicker who can come in during the game, gives you solutions.”
Kockott replaced Tillous-Borde against the Wallabies, and hit a key 45-meter penalty eight minutes from time.
“We have the chance to have two good pairs in the squad,” said Saint-Andre.
Saint-Andre added a touch of freshness to his pack for the expected tough challenge that the Argentine forwards will bring, with Xavier Chiocci coming in at prop, Benjamin Kayser at hooker, and Sebastien Vahaamahina at lock.
France’s only setback during the preparation came after the team was named midweek, when new wing sensation Teddy Thomas missed a training and was dropped.
“In the France group, there are rules that everyone should respect,” Saint-Andre explained. “I had a meeting with Teddy and he understands. I’m sure it will make him grow up.”
Thomas, who was replaced by Maxime Medard, has started his international career with a bang, scoring four tries in his first two matches. He apologized in a statement, saying he arrived late at the national training center because of a problem at home.
“I want to underline, without trying to make any excuse, that my error, which needs to be sanctioned, could not be assimilated to insolence or arrogance,” said Thomas.
Argentina, which has lost to Scotland and beat Italy this autumn, made four changes.
Captain Agustin Creevy comes in for Matias Cortese at hooker. In the backs, Nicolas Sanchez will start at flyhalf, pushing Juan Martin Hernandez to center alongside Marcelo Bosch. The match will also see the return of Juan Imhoff on the wing.
“We did not play well in either game but we beat Italy, which was important,” Bosch said. “We have been slow to adapt to the game that we are facing in Europeans, especially in the rucks, where you fight a lot here for every ball. The Rugby Championship goes faster, almost without stopping. So, the idea is to start quickly on Saturday, especially against a very tough opponent, at home.”
The Pumas have won four of their last eight matches against France.
France: Scott Spedding, Yoann Huget, Maxime Mermoz, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard, Camille Lopez, Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Damien Chouly, Bernard Le Roux, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Sebastien Vahaamahina, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Xavier Chiocci. Reserves (3 to be omitted): Guilhem Guirado, Alexandre Menini, Uini Antonio, Alexandre Flanquart, Yoann Maestri, Yannick Nyanga, Charles Ollivon, Rory Kockott, Remi Tales, Mathieu Bastareaud, Benjamin Fall.
Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet, Juan Imhoff, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martin Hernandez, Manuel Montero, Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Leonardo Senatore, Javier Ortega Desio, Facunda Isa, Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy (captain), Marcos Ayerza. Reserves: Matias Cortese, Lucas Noguera Paz, Ramiro Herrera, Lucas Ponce, Tomas Lezana, Martín Landajo, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.