Rugby Union: French youth's Liberation Day

Paul Trow hears the fears and hopes of an enigmatic side's injured captain

SO ONCE again heads have rolled by the tumbrilful. But after two defeats by South Africa, the second an unprecedented 50-point thrashing in Paris, it was only to be expected.

French rugby does not take kindly to humiliations and the selectorial guillotine was duly applied to last season's Grand Slam winners. As a consequence, the squad to take on England in the Stade de France on Saturday is almost more noteworthy for the names which are missing - Cabannes, Lacroix, Merle, Benazzi, Ntamack and Saint-Andre, to name but six.

Granted, the last three are ruled out by injury, but it seems that the French have deliberately named an inexperienced line-up led by an international infant to confront a team in rampant mood following that epic 26-26 draw with the All Blacks.

Traditionally, though, a new French XV spells danger. At least that is the hope if not necessarily the expectation of Philippe Saint-Andre, the sometime left wing with Montferrand and now in residence at Gloucester.

"I think it's too open to predict because England played very well against New Zealand and the French played very badly against South Africa," said the 30-year-old who is recovering from a hamstring injury. "The match is at the new stadium and the French team will be highly motivated in front of an 80,000 crowd. It will certainly be exciting. But there will be only a few experienced players in a young French side and the absence of both Benazzi and Merle leaves a big gap in the pack."

Saint-Andre, who has led France a joint-record 34 times, clearly doubts the wisdom of handing the captaincy to the 24-year-old hooker Raphael Ibanez, four of whose five caps have been as a replacement. "Making Ibanez the captain was a big surprise. They had already offered it to Jean-Luc Sadourny but he didn't accept it. He just wants to concentrate on his own game and not be blamed if things go wrong.

"But I thought they would then ask Olivier Brouzet. I don't know whether they did, but Brouzet captains Bordeaux and he does an excellent job. Ibanez captains Dax but has little experience. He is not the No 1 hooker in France either, so there must be a question mark against him."

The French team manager Jo Maso and the coaches Pierre Villepreux and Jean-Claude Skrela, would doubtless dismiss Saint-Andre's fears, but he is otherwise optimistic about who and what England can expect to face. After the captaincy, the most controversial selection was that of the enfant prodigue Thomas Castaignede at fly-half. To many, this seems a risky choice, but Saint- Andre is in agreement. "This year Thomas has been playing for Castres at No 10. At Toulouse he was always at centre. He's had a few fitness problems, but he's playing well at fly-half now. He's studying in Castres which is why he switched clubs but his rugby has benefited as well." So England are warned that the man who broke their hearts with an injury- time drop goal when they last visited Paris two years ago must be watched.

Along with Ibanez, the squad contains at least three other unfamiliar names. Saint-Andre's own likely stand-in on the left wing is 25-year-old Christophe Dominici. "He's normally solid defensively and very fast though he's not particularly big. I think that Thomas Lievremont will be the No 8. He's big, strong and fast - just what we need. Another new name is Thierry Cleda. He can fill any of the back-five positions in the scrum so should make an ideal replacement."

After missing last year's championship, Saint-Andre is keen not to suffer a second personal Five Nations whitewash. "My objective is to be fit to face Ireland in Paris [on 7 March]. I've had only 25 minutes of rugby - in the league against Wasps when I got injured again - since the second Test with South Africa.

"I'd like to be captain again as long as I'm playing well but I'd be happy just to play on the wing. At the moment I'm tied with Jean-Pierre Rives for captaining France the most times so I'd like to beat him if I can. My record is 25 wins and nine losses - slightly better than Rives', I think.

"But if the new captain does well then I'm happy to play under him. I've played nine years and 69 times for France and as a sportsman it's been an honour."

Certainly, it can rarely have been dull. "It's always the case with French teams that we are good the match after we've been bad. Steffi Graf is the same. We are the Steffi Graf of rugby."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?