Talented tinkerer or blind blunderer? The verdict on Marc Lièvremont will be settled by the meetings in Paris with Italy today and England on Saturday, two matches standing between the France coach and a first Six Nations title at the third attempt.
No Test team have picked as many players as the French under Lièvremont. The Castres wing Marc Andreu, who had not even seen the inside of the Stade de France until last week, typifies the turnover. When he made his debut for the last three minutes of the win in Wales a fortnight ago, he was the 73rd player picked in 24 matches.
France are on for their first Grand Slam since 2004, though they were champions in 2006 and '07. Lièvremont, formerly the Under-21 coach, succeeded Bernard Laporte at the start of 2008 and has no rival among the other leading countries in sacrificing short-term continuity to give form players a go before next year's World Cup.
There have been injuries too. In this Six Nations alone, among the wings, Aurélien Rougerie was hurt against Scotland, and Vincent Clerc against the Irish. With Cédric Heymans out of sorts, the 24-year-old Andreu will start today in place of Julien Malzieu. The outsized centre Mathieu Bastareaud is confined to the bench with a dodgy calf. Italy's XV is unchanged from their defeat of Scotland in Rome.
They call Andreu "the little Dominici", and like the eminent former wing Christophe he grew up with Toulon, played football to a good standard and has a wicked sidestep. At 5ft 7in and 12st 4lb he is a midget compared to Malzieu and Rougerie, which was why Toulon's coach Philippe Saint-André offloaded him to Castres last summer.Reuse content