Saint-Andre keeps faith with Parra, Michalak
MARCOUSSIS, France (AFP) –
Morgan Parra and Frederic Michalak will start France’s must-win match against Ireland in rugby’s Six Nations championships this weekend, coach Philippe Saint-Andre announced on Thursday.
France go into the match at Landsdowne Road, Dublin, rooted to the bottom of the table in their worst start in the tournament since 1982 which could see them land their first wooden spoon since 1957.
Les Bleus, however, have the psychological advantage of knowing that they have only lost once to Ireland in their last 13 Tests — the Irish’s Grand Slam victory in 2009 — which could help them avoid a damaging fourth consecutive defeat.
In all, Saint-Andre has made three changes to his starting XV from the 23-13 defeat against England on February 23. Besides Michalak, who replaces Francois Trinh-Duc, Florian Fritz returns to centre ahead of Mathieu Bastareaud.
Toulouse fullback-cum-wing Maxime Medard — dogged by injury problems to his knee since last year’s competition — returns on the wing in place of Benjamin Fall.
Clermont scrum-half Parra, 24, has 49 caps for France and played alongside 30-year-old Michalak, the more experienced player with 62 appearances, during the 22-14 victory over Samoa in November last year.
The Toulon player, singled out for his poor performances during the defeats to Italy and Wales, had been on the replacements bench at Twickenham. He came on in the 53rd minute but made little impact.
Saint-Andre, however, said he wanted to keep faith with the player, telling reporters: “Frederic has regained his freshness and has been very good in training.”
The French coach has selected Toulouse centre Fritz seven times in a row since the last match of the 2012 Six Nations against Wales and the first of this year’s competition against Italy.
Saint-Andre said he had dropped Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud to the bench because of doubts about his fitness but said he could still come on as an impact player.
Twenty-nine-year-old Fritz, making his 29th appearance for the national side, will play alongside the pacy Wesley Fofana, who scored an impressive solo try at Twickenham.
Medard’s return to the side was expected, nearly a year after his last international match for France, when he tore cruciate ligaments in his right knee against Scotland.
Saint-Andre said he would play on the left, working with Yoann Huget, who has impressed this year, to give France more attacking options.
“(Medard) will alternate between the wing and the back with Yoann Huget,” the coach said, adding that he was expecting up-and-unders from the Irish.
France XV to play against Ireland on Saturday:
Yoann Huget; Vincent Clerc, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard; Frederic Michalak, Morgan Parra; Thiery Dusautoir (capt), Louis Picamoles, Yannick Nyanga; Yoann Maestri, Christophe Samson; Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Antonie Claassen, Maxime Machenaud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud.