French hopes lifted by return of Merle

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The Independent Online
France hope their powerful lock Olivier Merle, back in a revamped team for the second Test against the world champions, South Africa, in Paris on Saturday, will help them restore some pride.

"Olivier has always been a first-choice player this season and we missed him a lot last Saturday," said the French coach, Jean-Claude Skrela, referring to the first Test won 22-12 by the Springboks in Bordeaux.

Merle, fit again after a rib injury, is a tough customer in line-outs, scrums and mauls and is the sort of player France need to challenge the strong Springbok forwards.

Skrela, who has had to cope with a string of injuries, on Wednesday unveiled a team with six new names including the Bourgoin winger Laurent Leflamand, who will earn his first cap, and two changes of position.

The other players to come in are the winger David Venditti, outside- half Christophe Lamaison, the scrum-half Guy Accoceberry and the hooker Marc Dal Maso. Richard Dourthe switches from wing to centre while the captain Abdelatif Benazzi moves from flanker to No 8.

"The players must understand that if you want to run the ball, you have to fight to win it first," Skrela said. "We thought that was obvious at international level but it didn't look that way in the first Test."

For the first time in their history, the Springboks will play four successive Tests with the same team as their squad for Saturday's match is unchanged from the first Test and two previous Tests in Argentina.

The hooker James Dalton, who left the pitch in Bordeaux with a bruised shoulder, should be fit and so should Joubert despite a minor thigh injury.

FRANCE (v South Africa, Paris, Saturday): J-L Sadourny; L Leflamand, R Dourthe, S Glas, D Venditti; C Lamaison, G Accoceberry; C Califano, M Dal Maso, F Tournaire, O Merle, F Pelous, P Benetton, R Castel, A Benazzi (capt).

SOUTH AFRICA: A Joubert; J Small, J Mulder, H Le Roux, J Olivier; H Honiball, J van der Westhuizen; D Theron, J Dalton, A Garvey, K Wiese, M Andrews, R Kruger, A Venter, G Teichmann (capt).

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