Unchanged France keep with Beauxis the boot

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The Independent Online

Bernard Laporte usually makes Rafael Benitez, the tinkerman of Anfield, appear a model of consistency in his team selections, but the France coach made a demi-tour yesterday in announcing his side to play England on Saturday.

His men having produced the performance of the World Cup so far in beating New Zealand in the Millennium Stadium last weekend, Laporte picked an unchanged side for the first time for three years when he named his line-up for the semi-final. "We could have made two or three changes, but who under-performed in Cardiff?" Laporte asked. "Nobody. It was a team victory."

Serge Betsen and Lionel Beauxis were the only players whose places might have been under threat. Betsen would always have been Laporte's first choice, but the Biarritz flanker was replaced early on Saturday after suffering a blow to the head. When doubts were raised yesterday about sending him so quickly back into the fray, Jo Maso, the France manager, insisted: "We wouldn't take any risks. He passed his medical tests and the doctors have given him the green light."

Laporte believes in horses for courses and had chosen Beauxis against New Zealand because of his ability to kick the ball deep into All Black territory. If other aspects of the Stade Français stand-off's game do not match up to those of Frédéric Michalak, the statistics from Cardiff demonstrated the coach's game plan: on the 17 occasions Beauxis had possession he kicked rather than passed 10 times.

Against England Laporte might have been tempted to turn to Michalak's invention, evident in the key role he played after replacing Beauxis in the second half last weekend, but the Toulouse man remains on the bench, an indication that the French will again play a defensive game.

Maso said that keeping Beauxis would help counter Jonny Wilkinson's threat as a kicker. "If we make errors in our own 50 metres, we will concede penalties," Maso said. "When the opposition have players like Jonny Wilkinson, who is one of the best penalty kickers in the world, it's better to avoid that."

Laporte also paid tribute to the potency of Wilkinson's boot. "England have often lost without him," he said. "We know his importance to them. He's one of the key men, in terms of both his game and his charisma. Is he back 100 per cent after his comeback? I don't know about that, but I do know that he's been performing well."

Without wanting to give away too much of his game plan, Laporte suggested that neither team would have many tricks up their sleeve. "There are no big surprises these days with the biggest teams in international rugby," he said.

Having underlined the strength of England's pack, Laporte added: "England hadn't been at their best for a year, but when you look at the teams they were putting out, their best players weren't there.

"Like us, they've grown in strength. We shouldn't forget that it was England who denied us the Grand Slam last winter at a time when everyone was saying they were moribund. Now they've got everyone back and they're competitive again. This will be harder for us than last week."

The French resumed training yesterday, having rested for three days, but were not at their familiar base, the national rugby centre at Marcoussis, 25 miles south of Paris.

The International Rugby Board instructed them to move because it said all four semi-finalists had to set up camp in the capital itself. France will now train at Boulogne-Billancourt, in the west of Paris.

"The IRB wanted all the teams to be lodged in the same way and that this equality should be respected," Maso said. "As a member responsible for the French XV, I am here for the rules to be respected."

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