MARCOUSSIS, France (AFP) –
South African born flanker Antonie Claassen was named on Thursday to get his first start for France in their final Six Nations match against Scotland at the Stade de France on Saturday.
The 28-year-old – son of a former Springbok captain – replaces Yannick Nyanga, who is on the replacements bench, and is one of three changes made by coach Philippe Saint-Andre to the starting XV that played in the 13-13 draw with Ireland last Saturday.
New Caledonia-born lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, who made an impact when he came on during the second-half of the Ireland game, gets his first start as well, replacing Christophe Samson who drops to the bench.
Saint-Andre, whose side are in danger of becoming the first French side to land the wooden spoon since 1999, also restored Mathieu Bastareaud to the centres as Florian Fritz is a doubt because of a foot injury.
The uncapped Gael Fickou has been called up as cover for Fritz, who has been given till Friday to prove his fitness to take his place on the replacements bench.
Vahaamahina and Claassen, who will be winning their third caps, were given the nod by Saint-Andre because of the dreadful weather forecast for Saturday.
“They are predicting a lot of rain for Saturday thus we preferred to add the extra power of Sebastien Vahaamahina and Antonie Claassen,” said Saint-Andre.
Bastareaud too will add power to the centres, ironically his constant battle with his weight counted against him for the Irish clash despite having been one of the few French backs to make an impression in the first three matches.
Vahaamahina, 21, will partner Yoann Maestri in the engine room, with the latter having recovered from the painful shoulder that forced him to go off early in the second-half of the Irish match.
Saint-Andre, who moved last Sunday to dispel rumours that he was going to resign because of the poor campaign that has seen them lose three of their four matches, has also kept faith with the halfback pairing of scrum-half Morgan Parra and under fire fly-half Frederic Michalak.
On that note Saint-Andre took aim at England‘s 2003 World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward, who had criticised him staying loyal to Michalak, who was France’s first choice at the 2003 World Cup and had a dreadful game in the semi-final which the French lost to England.
“For the past four or five years he (Woodward) has been involved in athletics,” said Saint-Andre, who cut his teeth as a coach with Gloucester in England.
“He is no longer involved in rugby. Clive Woodward therefore does not know that 80% of the fly-halves in the Top 14 are foreigners.
“I know Clive well. I respect his work and I worked with him when I was in England.
“When he began his job he left for Australia with a very young squad, and they lost by between 70-80 points (76-0 in June 1998).
“He didn’t win many matches at the beginning, but he believed in his players and they were world champions in 2003.
“He knows also that a national coach is a difficult job, that one has to take risks, to innovate, to find and put together a new squad in order to try and be better in the future.”
Team (kick-off 2000 GMT):
Yoann Huget; Vincent Clerc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard; Frederic Michalak, Morgan Parra; Louis Picamoles, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Antonie Claassen; Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina; Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Christophe Samson, Yannick Nyanga, Maxime Machenaud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Florian Fritz (or Gael Fickou)Published 14 Mar 2013, 22:43 IST