Saint-Andre blames foreign props for French problems
June 12, 2014
Thomas Domingo has been benched for the second Test © Getty Images
The rugby world has turned upside down: Australia, with its infamous history of scrum woes, have forced France - who fete their props like heroes - into drastic front-row changes for the second Test at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Powerful and crafty scrummaging props are as French as croissants; it's their bread and butter. But France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has lamented the dearth of quality front-rowers in his country following their 50-23 pounding by the Wallabies in the opening Test.
Saint-Andre has dumped both of his starting props, veteran tight-head Nicholas Mas and grizzled loose-head Thomas Domingo, to expose the uncapped Alexandre Menini and seven-Test Rabah Slimani in Melbourne.
The coach said the changes were a result of a poor scrum in Brisbane, continuing their dramas with referees during this year's Six Nations, as well as a need to build depth. France's cashed-up Top 14 league is growing bigger each year, but the propensity of clubs to sign high-profile imports is costing the national team in several positions - including the front-row.
Nicolas Mas has been the face of the French front row © PA Photos
"We don't have too many props in France because they're all foreigners so we need to [expose them]," Saint-Andre told AAP. "If we don't try out some props in a tour 15 months from the World Cup, we'll never try them. This is an opportunity to see them in a fantastic contest."
The tourists normally enter Tests against Australia targeting the scrum, but not at the moment. English, New Zealand, Argentinian and Georgian props fill about half the positions available in France's Top 14, and the Wallabies are patching up their long-time Achilles heel.
The Australian scrum's stocks have gradually started to rise since the 2013 Rugby Championship, after coming to terms with the new soft engagement laws, and rising loose-head James Slipper underlined his talent at Suncorp Stadium by outpointing 72-cap Mas, 34, in his 50th Test - just a day after turning 25.
"If you have a good scrum the morale of the team picks up and everyone gets excited and looking for a result at the scrum," Slipper said.
But chinks still remain in the Aussie armour.
The French, with their front-row reserves opposing the Wallabies replacements, scored a pushover penalty try on full-time, which led to back-up tight-head Paddy Ryan's axing.
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