Rugby Union: French begin a revolution prior to Five Nations challenge

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Clive Woodward's willingness to sacrifice an entire herd of sacred cattle in selecting his sides for England's recent four-match international series may not have earned him the victory he craved, but it seems to have set a few hares running on the far side of the Channel. Yesterday, the French indulged in their own bout of "off with their heads" radicalism by ditching some of their most experienced and respected Test performers.

Philippe Saint-Andre, who led the Tricolores to a record defeat against the Springboks in Paris last month, was omitted from a training squad due to meet next week to begin early preparations for the Five Nations' Championship. So too was Thierry Lacroix, despite his virtuoso performance for Harlequins against Wasps at the weekend, and, astonishingly, Abdel Benazzi and Jean-Luc Sadourny, acknowledged world-class acts at loose forward and full-back respectively.

Jean Claude-Skrela and his coaching sidekick, Pierre Villepreux, wielded their collective axe in other directions, too. Didier Casadei, the outstanding Brive loose-head prop, and his versatile clubmate, David Venditti, were also ignored, as were such luminaries as Olivier Merle and Laurent Cabannes. "We are not excluding anyone from future Test sides," insisted Villepreux. "We simply want to bring as many players as possible into our planning." A logical move, perhaps, but a bold one all the same.

Bath, hugely embarrassed at their 50-point mauling by Saracens at the weekend, have been rather less imaginative in naming their side for this Saturday's do-or-die Heineken Cup semi-final with Pau at the Recreation Ground. Their four changes are wholly predictable: Mark Regan for Andy Long at hooker, Richard Webster for Eric Peters on the blind-side flank, Mike Catt for Richard Butland at stand-off and a return to the left wing for Adedayo Adebayo, which will allow Matt Perry to switch back to outside centre.

There may, however, be a surprise twist on the personnel front. Adebayo, who strained his back before the Saracens match, remains a slight doubt and Bath have put Simon Geoghegan, their perpetually injured Irish wing, on standby. Geoghegan has played fewer than 20 matches in three years, due mainly to chronic toe problems that have required nine separate bouts of surgery.

Pau have made one change from the side who started against Leicester in last month's quarter-final, replacing the lock Thierry Mentieres with Alain Lagouarde.

The Wales captain, Gwyn Jones, was "comfortable" yesterday after an operation to ease pressure on his spine. The Cardiff flanker suffered a serious neck injury during Saturday's match against Swansea.