The France head coach Philippe Saint-André has been dealt a double whammy on the personnel front – and taken a very bold decision indeed in dropping another of his stand-out players for behavioural reasons.
Saint-André received confirmation on Sunday that the Clermont Auvergne centre Wesley Fofana, his best midfielder, and the Toulouse flanker Yannick Nyanga, the most reliable of his back-row forwards, would miss the match with Scotland at Murrayfield in 11 days’ time – a game the French must win if they are to make a serious challenge for the title. Fofana ended the heavy defeat to Wales on Friday with mashed-up ribs, while Nyanga retreated across the Channel with a torn hamstring.
But the most significant news for Les Bleus surrounded the No 8 Louis Picamoles, whose name was conspicuous by its absence from a squad of 30 players who will begin preparations for the trip to Edinburgh this weekend. Picamoles was sent to the sin bin during the second half of the capitulation in Cardiff and was seen making gestures towards the referee Alain Rolland – studies in schoolboy irony to some observers, crimes against rugby to others – on his way off the field.
Saint-André took an extremely dim view of the Toulouse forward’s reaction, hence the move to restore the South African-born Antonie Claassen of Castres to the squad in his place. Picamoles may have been out of order, but the decision to ditch so influential a figure from a pivotal fixture is courageous indeed.
“After this defeat, we have made some changes to compensate for injuries and perceived shortcomings – and also in reaction to certain attitudes vis-à-vis the match officials that have no place in our sport,” explained Saint-André, who has recalled his game manager supreme, Morgan Parra, even though the goal-kicking scrum-half from Clermont was sent off for butting in a domestic league game at the weekend and is due to appear before for a disciplinary tribunal. “Respect is the foundation of our values,” the coach continued. “It is important to send a signal to all players that the privilege of wearing the jersey imposes duties and obligations.”