Williams returns as France gamble on Baby
February 23, 2009
Winger Shane Williams missed the victory over England with an ankle injury © Getty Images
France coach Marc Lievremont has once again gambled in the fly-half stakes, naming centre Benoit Baby at No.10 for their vital Six Nations match-up with Wales at the Stade de France on Friday.
With regular fly-half Lionel Beauxis sidelined with a pelvic injury Lievremont has plumped for Baby over Montpellier's Francois Trinh-Duc, who was called in to the squad on Monday. Baby's move to pivot opens the door for rampaging Stade Francais centre Mathieu Bastareaud to make his debut alongside Yannick Jauzion in the centres.
Morgan Parra replaces Sebastien Tillous-Borde at scrum-half, meaning that France are trialling a completely new half-back combination against the Welsh. There is also a change in the back-three, with Maxime Medard reverting to fullback in place of Clement Poitrenaud and Clermont's Julien Malzieu slotting in on the wing.
Sylvain Marconnet will equal Christian Califano's caps record of 72 for a prop whn he packs down in the front-row while Sale's Sebastien Chabal returns to the starting line-up in the second-row.
"We regret the withdrawal of Lionel Beauxis," he said. "Events therefore dictate our choice. We know it's not ideal - we need our best team against Wales. Francois only arrived on Monday. We think he (Baby) has all the qualities to play in that position even if he rarely plays there for his club. We have confidence in Benoit Baby."
While Bastareaud was also only called in to the squad on Monday Lievremont maintains that his hands were tied in terms of his selection following an injury to Perpignan's Maxime Mermoz.
"We had to choose (who to call up) between Mathieu Bastareaud and Damien Traille, but Traille is ill and only played an hour (at the weekend) while Florian Fritz is still suspended," said Lievremont. "Mathieu has the profile to come into this team and bring his determination and power. He has played well for Stade. And we are conscious he has only come into the squad four days before the match."
Winger Shane Williams has been named in Wales' starting line-up for the game in a major boost for Warren Gatland's men.
Williams, who has scored 45 tries in 62 Tests, has shaken off an ankle injury that ruled him out of the 23-15 victory over England and reclaims the No.11 shirt from Mark Jones. The return of Williams is the only change to the starting line-up while there is a place for fit-again Gavin Henson on the bench after he recovering from a calf muscle strain which sidelined him for the victories over Scotland and England.
Henson, who last played international rugby when Wales clinched last season's Six Nations title by beating France in Cardiff, takes over from Ospreys colleague Andrew Bishop on the bench.
"A fit Shane Williams is a player any coach would want in their side and so it was a natural decision for him to come in for Mark Jones, with no disrespect to Mark who did a good job for us against England," said coach Warren Gatland. "France are one of the top sides in the Championship and they are always going to be tough opposition - especially at home - and this is a must win game for them if they are to keep their title hopes alive.
"We also know how tough it will be for them with a short six-day turnaround for many of their players who have featured in domestic rugby this weekend - we had a similar experience ourselves in between the Scotland and England games and found it hard going - so that is something we must try to take advantage of."
The side features three players yet to lose a Six Nations match in Leigh Halfpenny and Andy Powell, who both made their Championship debuts this year and, on the bench, 2005 Grand Slam winner John Yapp. Meanwhile Ryan Jones has yet to lose a Six Nations match as captain after six tournament matches in charge.
France: Maxime Medard (Toulouse); Julien Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne), Mathieu Bastareaud (Stade Francais), Yannick Jauzion, Cedric Heymans (both Toulouse); Benoit Baby (Clermont-Auvergne), Morgan Parra (Bourgoin); Fabien Barcella (Biarritz), Dimitri Szarzewski, Sylvain Marconnet (both Stade Francais), Lionel Nallet (Castres, capt), Sebastien Chabal (Sale), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz)
Replacements: Benjamin Kayser (Leicester), Thomas Domingo (Clermont-Auvergne), Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (Castres), Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys), G Henson (Ospreys).
Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ire), Simon McDowell (Ire)
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September