Morgan Parra, the dinky little goal-kicking scrum-half from Clermont Auvergne, was one of the stand-out players in last season's Six Nations and has looked pretty damned good in this year's, too. So why have the French decided to drop him in favour of Dimitri Yachvili, the dinky little goal-kicking scrum-half from Biarritz? Mike Tindall, for one, smells a rat.
The England captain has run into Yachvili on many occasions down the years and has come to regard him as something special – a view reinforced by regular conversations with his close friend Iain Balshaw, the former red-rose full-back who plays alongside Yachvili down there on the Franco-Spanish border. "We talk a lot about who's playing well and Yachvili generally gets a mention," Tindall said yesterday. "I think he's world-class. He brings such variety to the game – he has a great brain, he reads situations so well, he has 'feel'. We have to be wary of him because he makes such good decisions."
Yachvili, who ended his spell of Premiership rugby at Gloucester and returned to France before Tindall made his move to Kingsholm six years ago, has had his golden moments against England in recent years. In 2004, he scored 19 points in the 24-21 victory in Paris. A year later, he scored all his country's points as the Tricolores overturned a 17-6 interval deficit to win 18-17 at Twickenham, and then contributed 16 points to a 31-6 hiding in Paris in '06.
He can play a tighter game than Parra, and as France seem likely to spend the first hour of today's contest in "up the guts" mode – the reappearance at No 8 of the pony-tailed pulveriser Sébastien Chabal guarantees a forthright approach – the change of personnel makes sense. Also, his highly developed awareness of space makes him one of the great maximisers of turnover ball.
"We know we can't afford to cough up possession," Tindall said. "We want to keep playing the way we're playing, finding the best ways of getting Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto off their wings and into the game, and there is a risk attached to that. We want to believe they'll never turn the ball over, but in reality, the possibility is always there. It's a matter of looking hard at how we can cover the edges if we lose possession, and then working our bollocks off to get back there."
According to Marc Lièvremont, the French coach, Yachvili and Parra are so closely matched, he can afford to select on rotation. "People say Yachvili traditionally performs well against England, and it is true that he is full of confidence at the moment," said the former flanker, who lives in Anglet, close to the Biarritz home ground. "But this is not a move specifically designed for England. I just wanted to shake up the group."
Tindall and his colleagues can be forgiven for taking this with a fistful of salt. Lièvremont has changed tack at No 9 for a reason, and it has nothing to do with Buggins's turn.Reuse content