Jacques Brunel wanted to get ahead of the curve this week, as he named his 23 for Saturday’s clash with Scotland on Tuesday morning and the France coach has certainly made some bold selection calls.
Out go experienced half-back pairing Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez with 22-year-old Antoine Dupont and 19-year-old Romain Ntamack the new men in the nine and ten jerseys.
Thomas Ramos makes his first start for Les Bleus at full-back, while the final change sees Wenceslas Lauret – who started against Wales in Round One – return to the starting XV at blindside flanker for Yacouba Camara.
And Brunel has run through his thinking behind the four personnel changes, with positional alterations for the Yoann Huget (full-back to wing) and Gaël Fickou (wing to centre).
France went down 44-8 in Le Crunch last time out but Ntamack, and in particular Dupont, impressed off the bench at Twickenham – the scrum-half putting up big numbers in terms of line breaks, offloads and metres made in his 34 minutes of action.
Ntamack started in the centres in Round One against Wales – the position he has played for Toulouse this season – but Brunel is confident both his new half-back can handle the pressure.
“It’s a sporting choice,” said Brunel of the decision to drop Parra and Lopez from the 23. “The half-backs against England [Parra and Lopez] did not have the expected return, and the performances of Antoine and Romain when they came on showed quality.
“So, that justified them being trusted from the start. The defeat in England deserved to change things.
“It’s not a problem [that Ntamack plays mainly in the centres for Toulouse]. Having spoken with him, I know that he has no particular preference – he plays in the centres with Toulouse but at the same time he is the organiser of the game.
“We’ve worked mainly with him at fly-half for a while. If we had any doubt, we would not have selected him there.”
The Dupont-Ntamack half-back axis necessitated the selection of a reliable kicker somewhere else in the back-line and Ramos has been deemed that man.
The 23-year-old made his international debut as a replacement against England but will now start at No.15 after the back-three struggled at Twickenham.
And Brunel explained his reasons for selecting the Toulouse star.
The coach said: “It’s first of all his performance against England, because even if he was slightly greedy in possession, especially on the final play, he showed a lot of enthusiasm and determination.
“He showed that he wasn’t overwhelmed by the context of the match. That’s what you’re looking for.
“And at the same time, he is the kicker for Stade Toulousain, so he can take on the same job with us.”
After Lauret started against Wales in Round One, Camara was preferred on the blindside against England but Brunel has reverted to his original No.6 with the Scots heading to town.
And while the coach insists Camara will be back in the fold in the future, he claims the 24-year-old didn’t quite live up to his own lofty standards last time out.
“Yacouba recognised himself that he missed an opportunity against England,” added Brunel. “He was below the level that he knows he’s capable playing.
“And Wenceslas Lauret did not have a bad game when he played against Wales. The selection for England was more about Yacouba than Wenceslas.
“But Yacouba will come back because I don’t think he showed his true face against the English.”