Galthie recalled again: Rugby Union

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The Independent Online
Fabien Galthie has spent the past six years trying to convince a variety of French selectors that he is the long-term answer to his country's most pressing personnel problem. On Saturday, the resilient scrum-half's international career starts afresh once again when he takes the field at Lansdowne Road for the Five Nations opener against Ireland.

Galthie has been preferred to Guy Accoceberry and will make his 17th appearance for the Tricolores in Dublin. His last Test was against England in the World Cup play-off match 18 months ago when he replaced Accoceberry.

It was way back in 1981 that Galthie, now 27, first broke into the French side as Pierre Berbizier's successor. His relationship with Berbizier, who took over as coach, was not always comfortable, however, and he soon found himself losing out to virtually any scrum-half who pitched up for training with a pair of boots as Aubin Hueber, Alain Macabiau and Accoceberry took it in turns.

This time, Jean-Claude Skrela and his fellow selectors have put experience before experimentation. Already without two key men in Philippe Saint- Andre, the captain, and Olivier Roumat, their main source of line-out possession, the French management are keen to keep risks to a minimum.

They have reshuffled their back row, recalling Fabien Pelous at No 8, and drafted in David Venditti, who scored a brilliant try for Brive in the Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Cardiff earlier this month, at left wing.

The line-up has a reassuringly familiar look to it and Skrela sees his devil-you-know approach as a bulwark against complacency. "It would be a gross mistake to take Ireland lightly," he said yesterday.

Paul Burke, Ireland's reserve outside-half against France, has dropped out because of knee damage. His place on the bench has gone to David Humphreys, whose London Irish team-mate, Garry Halpin, has also pulled out of the senior squad with knee trouble. The uncapped prop, Paul Flavin, has been promoted from the A team.

The Scots, who face Wales at Murrayfield, had rather more than a possible outbreak of complacency on their minds yesterday. Gregor Townsend was pulled out of a training session at the stadium when he complained of shoulder trouble. Ron Eriksson, the London Scottish centre, will come off the bench if Townsend fails to respond to medical treatment.

At least Simon Shaw, the English lock-forward who has achieved the remarkable feat of almost guaranteeing himself a place on this summer's Lions tour in advance of his debut in the Five Nations, has more time to overcome his physical setbacks.

An automatic selection for the Calcutta Cup match with Scotland at Twickenham on 1 February, Shaw is suffering from a recurrence of a back problem that causes muscle spasms and, worryingly, he has been advised that the condition is inoperable. "There is not a lot anyone can do," he said before taking a brief part in the national squad's training session at a fog-bound Bisham Abbey yesterday. "However, I am fit enough to consider myself available for selection right now."

FRANCE (v Ireland, Lansdowne Road, Saturday): J-L Sadourny; E N'Tamack, R Dourthe, T Castaignede, D Venditti; A Penaud, F Galthie; C Califano, M Dal Maso, F Tournaire, O Merle, A Benazzi (capt), P Benetton, F Pelous.

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