High-flying France wary of Samoa threat
PARIS (AFP) –
France will be out to complete a clean sweep of wins in their autumn internationals for the first time since 2005 when they take on Samoa at the Stade de France on Saturday.
Philippe Saint-Andre’s men have trounced Australia 33-6 and Argentina 39-22 in two hugely impressive performances that have underlined their position as the top-ranking northern hemisphere team ahead of England.
That has been achieved with a solid core of 23 players that bodes well for the coach’s stated ambitions of quickly laying down the foundations of a strong squad for the 2015 World Cup in England.
For the challenge presented by the Samoans, Saint-Andre has made just three changes, bringing in a trio of hugely experienced players who were on the bench that started out against the Pumas.
Two of those come in the front row with Thomas Domingo taking over at loosehead prop from Yannick Forestier and Benjamin Kayser in at hooker for Dimitri Szarzewski.
Back in at scrum-half for his 45th cap comes Morgan Parra, with Maxime Machenaud dropping down to the bench.
Toulon playmaker Frederic Michalak is retained at fly-half after outstanding performances against Australia and Argentina.
“We decided to show confidence in this team and what the players wanted to show they could do in a match I consider to be the most important and hazardous of the series,” Saint-Andre said.
“No-one is being left out, for in our first two games all 23 players played their part.
“We were the outsiders against Australia, it was 50-50 against Argentina and now we are in the role of favourites,” he said.
“We will see if we are capabale of assuming that mantle and once again winning. We are trying to instill a culture of quality and consistency at the topmost level. That is the challenge that awaits us on Saturday.”
Samoa go into the France game on the back of an upset 26-19 win over Six Nations champions Wales in Cardiff, a victory that saw them move ahead of Scotland into ninth place in the world rankings.
They have never beaten France, losing 39-22 in Apia in 1999 and 43-5 in Paris in 2009, but former skipper and current technical advisor Pat Lam believes that another upset from the South Pacific Islanders is possible.
“If we win this match, we could be eighth, seventh or even sixth (in the IRB world rankings). For a little country like us, that would be a great achievement.
“Nowadays, our players play for some of the best clubs in the world. It’s not easy to gather them all together at the same time, but when we do get them they are in very good form.”
The Samoans have been hit by a string of injuries, the price they paid for a highly physical game against the Welsh and that has put a big dent in their hopes.
Centre Paul Williams is out with a fractured cheek bone and is replaced by Johnny Leota who wins his fourth cap while full-back Faatoina Autagavaia misses out with a broken bone in his left hand, his place going to 20-year-old Robert Lilomaiava, who gets a second cap.
In the pack, Joe Tekori takes over from Dan Leo, who has a knee injury, while Ti’i Paulo is preferred at hooker for Ole Avei.
Saint-Andre though insists that the Samoans will be no pushovers, describing them as “a team who are making giant strides forward”.
“They are tough in the contact area, very aggressive and they have improved in the areas of collective organisation, defence and at the breakdown.
“It is up to us to produce the goods and enable us to make it three wins in a row.”