French restore their rebel trio

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

The French selectors last night made peace with the senior players left out of the autumn series against New Zealand for returning late from playing in South Africa by restoring them to the team to face England in Paris a week tomorrow.

But the return of Thierry Lacroix at stand-off and Olivier Roumat and Laurent Cabannes in the pack was offset by the exclusion of the prop, Laurent Benezech, who led a players' revolt about the treatment of his comrades and has now been dropped for his trouble. The two things may not be unconnected.

Such are the Byzantine ways of French rugby, though, the side is significantly beefed up by the "South African three", who are among five changes from the team for both Tests - one won, one lost - against the All Blacks. Fit again, Jean-Michel Gonzales replaces Marc de Rougemont at hooker alongside France's one new cap, the 26-year-old Toulonnais Michael Perie.

Lacroix's choice instead of Alain Penaud enables France to continue with their 20-year-old centres, Richard Dourthe and Thomas Castaignede, and there is a reshuffle in the back row with Philippe Benetton injured and Alain Carminati dropped, Fabien Pelous moving to No 8 from lock and Abdel Benazzi to blind side from No 8.

A number of this side will be familiar to those who marvelled at the Cardiff-Toulouse European Cup final last Sunday, not least Castaignede but also Emile Ntamack, Christian Califano and the intriguing scrum-half Philippe Carbonneau, a contentious choice given that he plays in the centre alongside Castaignede for the French champions.

Ireland's team to play Scotland in Dublin on the same day contains two changes from the team who beat the United States in Atlanta. Peter Clohessy comes in for Paul Wallace at prop and Jeremy Davidson for Victor Costello at blind-side flanker. The ex-All Black full-back John Gallagher is in the A team to play Scotland A next Friday.

FRANCE (v England, Paris, 20 January): J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E Ntamack (Toulouse), R Dourthe (Dax), T Castaignede (Toulouse), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); T Lacroix (Dax), P Carbonneau (Toulouse); M Perie (Toulon), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle (Montferrand), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen), F Pelous (Dax), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacements: P Bernat-Salles (Begles), A Penaud (Brive), G Accoceberry (Begles), L Benezech (Racing Club), M de Rougemont (Toulon), R Castel (Toulouse).

IRELAND (v Scotland, Dublin, 20 January): J Staples (Harlequins, capt); R Wallace (Garryowen), J Bell (Northampton), K McQuilkin (Bective Rangers), S Geoghegan (Bath); E Elwood (Lansdowne), C Saverimutto (Sale); N Popplewell (Newcastle), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), G Fulcher (Constitution), N Francis (Old Belvedere), J Davidson, P Johns (Dungannon), D Corkery (Constitution). Replacements: M Field (Malone), P Burke (Constitution), N Hogan (Terenure College), H Hurley (Old Wesley), A Clarke (Northampton), D McBride (Malone).

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