Indeed, the new broom has swept its way into every corner of the French squad. Raphael Ibanez, capped six times at hooker, will captain the side in place of Philippe Saint-Andre - the Gloucester wing has received the bum's rush, along with fellow English exiles Thierry Lacroix and Laurent Cabannes - and that means Marc Dal Maso, the brilliant Agen front-rower, will have to be satisfied with a place on the bench.
"I am not overawed by the prospect," said Ibanez, who has shaped up superbly for Dax this season. If he is good enough to keep Dal Maso out of the side, he has no reason to be.
Injuries have accounted for Abdel Benazzi and Emile Ntamack, two world- class performers from the 1995 World Cup squad, so it seems likely that Thomas Lievremont, the Perpignan loose forward, and Philippe Bernat-Salles of Pau will fill the gaps at No 8 and right wing. Thomas Castaignede, of Castres, a high- priority target for Saracens as they seek a replacement for Michael Lynagh, is expected to play at outside-half with Philippe Carbonneau, who captains Brive in their Heineken Cup final with Bath this weekend, back at scrum- half.
Despite all the changes, the Tricolores are still expected to take the field at the new Stade de France venue in Paris with at least eight of the men who staged the famous smash and grab raid on England last March. Skrela will confirm his line-up tomorrow week, 48 hours after Clive Woodward's scheduled team announcement.
FRANCE SQUAD: Forwards: R Ibanez (Dax, capt), P Benetton (Agen), O Brouzet (Begles-Bordeaux), C Califano (Toulouse), T Cleda (Pau), M Dal Maso (Agen), M Lievremont (Stade Francais), T Lievremont (Perpignan), O Magne (Brive), F Pelous (Toulouse), C Soulettes (Beziers), F Tournaire (Toulouse). Backs: D Aucagne (Pau), P Bernat-Salles (Pau), P Carbonneau (Brive), T Castaignede (Castres), C Dominici (Stade Francais), F Galthie (Colomiers), S Glas (Bourgoin), C Lamaison (Brive), J-L Sadourny (Colomiers).
- Chris HewettReuse content