Preview: Pumas stun France in World Cup opener
September 7, 2007
Argentina's forward power has forced France head coach Bernard Laporte into making some "painful" decisions in selecting his starting line-up for Friday's World Cup opener at the Stade de France.
Fear of the Pumas' notorious pack has seen Laporte name five forwards on the replacements' bench, and that in turn has impacted on his selection in the backs.
Cedric Heymans, a winger by trade, was named at full-back in place of Toulouse colleague Clement Poitrenaud, who was thought to be a shoo-in at number 15 but cannot even make the bench for the tournament curtain-raiser in Paris.
Heymans has been picked thanks to both his strong showing at full-back in the recent 34-7 win over Wales and his ability to cover a number of positions in the back-line, something that out-and-out number 15 Poitrenaud cannot do.
Laporte's faith in the versatility of David Skrela and Damien Traille, both picked in the starting XV, explains the shortage of backs on the bench.
Skrela and Pierre Mignoni will start as the half-back combination, meaning Toulouse pair Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Frederic Michalak have to be content with places among the substitutes.
In the fiercely contested back-row department, Remy Martin gets the nod at flanker while Imanol Harinordoquy is selected at number eight ahead of Julien Bonnaire, who is on the bench along with fellow back-rower Thierry Dusautoir.
Laporte revealed that Argentina's obduracy in the pack had changed his thinking.
"We have gone with five forwards on the bench and only two three-quarters because of the game put in front of us by the Argentinians," said the Les Bleus head coach.
"We have therefore selected Cedric Heymans rather than Clement Poitrenaud because with only two three-quarter replacements, there has to be a certain versatility.
"Cedric covers the wing, Damien Traille full-back and David Skrela the centres.
"The balance has swung in favour of Cedric because Clement Poitrenaud only occupies one position."
Selection at the base of the scrum was always going to be a sensitive issue, and Yannick Nyanga is the only back-row forward in France's 30-man World Cup party not to make the squad for the opening game.
That is despite the galloping Toulouse flanker putting in a man-of-the-match performance in the 22-9 win over England in Marseille earlier this month.
It was one of the many tough choices forced on Laporte, who said: "Especially in the back row and the back three, it is true that there is a lot of competition and it was necessary to make choices.
"It isn't because Yannick Nyanga is not in the squad that he is less good than the others. These were painful choices.
"Clement and Yannick are clearly the most frustrated, but transparency is the strong point in this squad.
"It is always difficult for those who aren't there. It is up to us to be with them and explain what we are doing. We have keep their fires burning for the rest of the competition."
Fly-half Skrela and scrum-half Mignoni had excellent RBS 6 Nations Championships and they keep their places in the team after solid displays in the warm-up matches, and despite the pressure exerted by fit-again duo Michalak and Elissalde.
"It would be wrong to say that the Mignoni-Skrela combination is better than Elissalde-Michalak," added Laporte. "They are at the same level.
"But Pierre and David have done very well in the preparation matches. They are going to start and we will see what happens after that.
"We can mix up the combinations but for the moment, they are used to playing together. We are not going to change that."
Laporte is right to pay special attention to Argentina's forward power, but he also is aware they have quality in the backs.
"They are strong (in the pack) but have talented players behind them, like (Agustin) Pichot, (Juan-Martin) Hernandez and (Felipe) Contepomi.
"They will come to impose themselves on this tournament. Argentina have numerous qualities and we are expecting a very tough match."
Juan Martin Hernandez has been selected at fly-half for Argentina's World Cup opener against hosts France in Paris on Friday.
Pumas coach Marcelo Loffreda has chosen Hernandez for the position ahead of Felipe Contepomi and Federico Todeschini.
Contepomi moves into the centres, where he will partner his twin brother Manuel, while Todeschini - an expert place-kicker - is on the bench.
Regular number eight Gonzalo Longo is sidelined with a leg injury so Lucas Ostiglia is named at the back of the scrum.
Juan Martin Scelzo, Ignacio Corleto and Juan Manuel Leguizamon have all shrugged off minor knocks and will start.
But lock Rimas Alvarez is named on the bench, with Loffreda sticking with the second-row combination of Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe and Patricio Albacete.
The team is captained by veteran scrum-half Agustin Pichot.
C Heymans (Toulouse); A Rougerie (Clermont-Auvergne), D Traille (Biarritz), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), C Dominici (Stade Francais); D Skrela (Stade Francais), P Mignoni (Clermont-Auvergne); O Milloud (Bourgoin), R Ibanez (Wasps, capt), P De Villiers (Stade Francais), F Pelous (Toulouse), J Thion (Biarritz), S Betsen (Biarritz), R Martin (Stade Francais), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz).
Replacements: D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), J-B Poux (Toulouse), S Chabal (Sale), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse), F Michalak (Toulouse).
I Corleto; L Borges, M Contepomi, F Contepomi, H Agulla; JM Hernandez, A Pichot (capt); R Roncero; M Ledesma, JM Scelzo, I Fernandez Lobbe, P Albacete, J Fernandez Lobbe, JM Leguizamon, L Ostiglia.
Replacements: AV Basualdo, S Gonzalez Bonorino, R Alvarez, M Durand, N Fernandez Miranda, F Todeschini, H Senillosa.
Tom Hamilton reports back from the launch of the Guinness PRO12 where there is a renewed sense of optimism with all of the off-field changes to the league
So much for the great Australian revival, writes Greg Growden. It now has the potential of going off the rails after the capitulation at Eden Park
The latest Week in Pictures takes in photographs from the Rugby Championship, the Top 14 and the southern hemisphere domestic scene
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold