Elissalde and Skrela restored for France
PA Sport and Scrum.com
March 12, 2008
France have gone back to the half-back partnership which started the win over Ireland earlier this season and left star back Cedric eymans on the bench as they look to keep the RBS 6 Nations Championship crown out of Wales's clutches on Saturday.
The team is arguably the strongest Les Bleus have put out all tournament, but head coach Marc Lievremont has delivered a couple of surprise choices.
Heymans, who excelled in the early stages of the Six Nations before being rested for last weekend's win over Italy, is unable to oust Anthony Floch at full-back on his return to the squad and must settle for a place among the substitutes.
And in the pack, Montpellier's Fulgence Ouedraogo is retained despite the return to the squad of Clermont-Auvergne number eight Elvis Vermeulen, who must also be content with the bench.
Fly-half David Skrela comes in for Francois Trinh-Duc, who looked to have made the number 10 jersey his own after an impressive performance against the Italians.
And he will combine with Jean-Baptiste Elissalde at half-back, with the Toulouse scrum-half having got the nod over Dimitri Yachvili, another stand-out performer on Sunday.
Of the decision to go with Floch, who started for the first time for France in the match against the Azzurri, Lievremont said: ''Anthony had a very good game against Italy and I want to see him again. But Cedric still has a big part to play.''
Floch said: ''I did well against Italy, I took my chance. They want me to continue and I hope I can keep going.''
Lievremont added Ouedraogo was keeping Vermeulen on the bench because of the youngster's amazing workrate.
''He is very, very active,'' the coach said.
''We are relying on him to counter the quality back row of the Welsh with his speed of positioning in defence, even if he clearly isn't as powerful.
''But we are counting on Elvis and his power later in the match.''
There are six changes in the line-up overall, the others seeing Vincent Clerc return on the wing, Thierry Dusautoir and Julien Bonnaire come into the back row and Damien Traille replace the injured Yann David at centre.
Lievremont has kept faith with the same front five that started against Italy.
Les Bleus need to beat the Welsh by at least 20 points this weekend to retain the title they have won for the past two years.
And that will not be straight-forward with the unbeaten hosts having the vast majority of a 75,000 crowd behind them at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
''We have spoken to the players about it,'' said Lievremont, who played in the same stadium for France in the 1999 World Cup final, France's 35-12 defeat by Australia.
''It is a true challenge to play in this hostile stadium. It will be difficult but it is exciting for them.''
More recently France beat New Zealand in Cardiff in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final.
The match should be entertaining and full of running rugby, with both sides renowned for the brio in the backs.
Les Bleus have regained their 'French Flair' tag under Lievremont, who is adamant his team play their own game at the weekend.
''It is out of the question that we let them have possession of the ball, that isn't the way we want to play it,'' he said.
''We aren't happy just to hold off our opponent, we want to show our own game like we did at the start of the tournament, sometimes very well.
''If we let them settle into the game and into their style of rugby, and give them confidence in a white-hot atmosphere, we really will be running into a dead end.''
"The thirst for knowledge has seen coaches break away from the confines of rugby and look to America." Tom Hamilton on the two-way learning process
On Saturday, New Zealand face the USA in a match that has been 40 years in the making. Tom Hamilton finds the atmosphere building in Chicago
Most modern rugby players will not know the name Ray Williams but they should be eternally grateful to him, writes John Taylor
With the All Blacks playing the USA Eagles this weekend, Craig Dowd says rugby is ready to make a professional breakthrough Stateside