France will name their 23 players tomorrow for next Sunday's Six Nations Championship match against Italy shorn of three backs from the original longlist including Vincent Clerc, Les Bleus' second-highest all-time try scorer.
Last weekend's Heineken Cup ties cost the French their 18-year-old centre Gaël Fickou from the 33-man selection named on 11 January. But it was the latest round of Top 14 league matches that hurt the most. Clerc picked up a thigh injury while Brice Dulin succumbed to a hamstring strain that will keep the Castres full-back out for most of the Six Nations.
Clerc, who appeared in all three of France's autumn internationals, and has 34 tries in 64 Tests, pulled up in the second half of Toulouse's win over Biarritz on Friday and is out for eight to ten days, giving the 31-year-old wing a chance of facing Wales on 9 February. Clerc, Bulin and Fickou have been replaced in the squad by Hugo Bonneval (Stade Français), Maxime Médard (Toulouse) and Adrien Planté (Perpignan).
France's coach Philippe Saint-André has long criticised the workload on his players, and is desperate to see change in a deal between club and country to be unveiled in June this year. "Playing 32 to 38 games a year is crazy, it's stupid and dangerous," Saint-André said. "But Bernard Laporte [the former France coach] was saying the same thing 12 years ago."