6N: France coach Saint-Andre makes 8 changes to face Italy
PARIS (AP) — France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has stuck by his pledge to shake up the team after a lackluster 20-13 home defeat to Wales, making eight switches for Sunday’s trip to face Italy.
Although four of those are injury swaps, Saint-Andre made a strong decision by leaving out fullback Brice Dulin altogether — even though Dulin was France’s only try scorer against the Welsh — and seems to have given Camille Lopez some reassurances over his long-term future by keeping him in the side.
Lopez was woeful against Wales, missing two of his three penalty kicks — including one that missed by 20 meters — fumbling passes and making a sloppy forward pass to Yoann Huget when his first-half try was ruled out.
But with the World Cup only six months away, Lopez looks to have Saint-Andre’s backing as this was the perfect opportunity to drop him.
“Camille is a good player, a good kicker. He’s been a bit off form recently but we believe in him,” Saint-Andre said. “Jules Plisson’s in great form which means we have options on the bench.”
Saint-Andre was scathing after the Wales defeat, ripping into his players and even mocking them for their tendency to easily give away points by saying France has become the “Father Christmas” of international rugby.
The ever-tinkering Saint-Andre — who took over from Marc Lievremont after the 2011 World Cup, where France lost the final 8-7 to New Zealand— has handed debuts to winger Noa Nakaitaci and No. 8 Loann Goujon.
“Loann knows our systems. He’s an intelligent player who has fitted into the squad well,” Saint-Andre said. “Thanks to his strength he can also offload passes after contact.”
South-African born Scott Spedding returns at fullback in place of Dulin; there are two injury replacements at center with Maxime Mermoz coming in for Remi Lamerat and Gael Fikcou in for Wesley Fofana; and scrumhalf Sebastien Tillous-Borde replaces the injured Morgan Parra.
“Scott is better mentally and physically, he’s got some energy back,” Saint-Andre said. “We can also use his kicking game in tandem with Camille Lopez. At the moment we think Scott is ahead of Brice (Dulin).”
In the forwards, veteran Nicolas Mas returns at prop while Alexandre Flanquart is selected at lock.
No. 8 Damien Chouly, lock Romain Taofifenua and prop Rabah Slimani drop to the bench.
Nakaitaci replaces Sofiane Guitoune, who is also out injured.
Burly center Mathieu Bastareaud, who has been in and out of the France side over the past five years, seems to be drifting out again — at least from the starting XV.
“He struggles to start games at 100 percent, to get going straight away so he holds back too much,” Saint-Andre said. “Mathieu’s better as an impact player in the last 20 minutes.”
The combative Parra, who was one of the only France players who did well against Wales, will miss the rest of the Six Nations after being ruled out for at least more two months with a knee injury.
France opened its campaign with a scrappy 15-8 win against Scotland and then lost 18-11 in Ireland.
Saint-Andre has been criticized for failing to produce a side capable of showing flair — with only two tries scored in three matches — and he snapped after the Wales defeat, turning the tables on his players.
France concludes its Six Nations campaign away to England on March 21.
France: Scott Spedding, Yoann Huget, Gael Fickou, Maxime Mermoz, Noa Nakaitaci, Camille Lopez, Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Loann Goujon, Bernard Le Rouz, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Yoann Maestri, Alexandre Flanquart, Nicolas Mas, Guilhem Guirado, Eddy Ben Arous. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Rabah Slimani, Vincent Debaty, Romain Taofifenua, Damien Chouly, Rory Kockott, Jules Plisson, Mathieu Bastareaud.