Brunel gives No.10 jersey to Ntamack for Pumas clash
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Toulouse young guns Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont will start at halfback as France plumped for youth for their opening Pool C match against Argentina on Saturday.
Head coach Jacques Brunel opted for goal-kicker Ntamack, 20, over Camille Lopez while 22-year-old Dupont starts at scrumhalf, the experienced Maxime Machenaud beating out Baptiste Serin for a place on the bench.
Lopez had started two of the three warm-up matches, but struggled with the boot, in contrast to Ntamack.
“He’s started several times for us and we think that having Ntamack on for the first part of the game and Lopez the second is the most satisfactory selection,” Brunel said.
Ntamack, son of emblematic France wing/fullback Emile, more often than not lines up at inside centre for Toulouse, but Brunel dismissed any concern over handing him the keys to No.10.
“We have absolutely no doubt about his quality at flyhalf,” Brunel said of Ntamack, a key playmaker in leading the France side to glory in the World Rugby Under-20 championship in 2018.
Ntamack will also take on the kicking duties, Brunel confirmed.
“He’s shown that this role doesn’t scare him,” he said.
“He trains regularly at his club and has a convincing success rate.”
Fiji-born Virimi Vakatawa slots into the centre alongside Gael Fickou, with Wesley Fofana out injured.
“Since his arrival in Japan, Virimi has been more than present and shown off his qualities in training and against opposition [versus Yamaha Jubilo on Friday], which led us to select him,” Brunel said.
Damian Penaud and Yoann Huget start on the wings, with Maxime Medard beating out the benched Thomas Ramos for a run-on role at fullback.
🇫🇷🇦🇷 Samedi, les Bleus entament leur Coupe du Monde contre l’Argentine au Tokyo Stadium ! Voici la composition de notre équipe ! 👊🏻 #NeFaisonsXV #FRAvsARG #XVdeFrance #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/xf95kK0dWj
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) September 19, 2019
Guilhem Guirado captains the side from hooker for the 31st time, keeping Camille Chat on the bench and for the moment silencing his doubters.
“I told him, I have no questions, he’s confirmed as the team’s captain,” Brunel said of Guirado, who didn’t start a single warm-up match.
Rabah Slimani and Jefferson Poirot complete the front row, with Sebastien Vahaamahina and the mobile Arthur Iturria named at lock.
Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon and Wenceslas Lauret make up a lively back row, with veteran No 8 Louis Picamoles and South African-born Bernard Le Roux among the replacements alongside prop options Demba Bamba and Cyril Baille.
When France hosted the 2007 World Cup, they lost their opener to Argentina, and Brunel insisted that his team “not give too much importance” to this opening game which he said “will not be decisive” for qualifying for the quarterfinals.
“The opening match is often decisive in setting the tone, but you must also not give it too much importance,” Brunel said.
“We’ll have three matches in 10 days,” with France going on to play the United States on October 2, Tonga four days later and England on October 12.
“The ideal is to win this game, but we can think that the three other matches will count until the end.
“History has shown that you mustn’t forget there are other matches,” insisted Brunel, no doubt in reference to France’s shock 14-19 defeat by Tonga in 2011, a result that didn’t stop Les Bleus from reaching the final.
France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Virimi Vakatawa, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Camille Lopez, Thomas Ramos
Date: Saturday, September 21
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 16.15 (04.15 Argentina time; 07.15 GMT; 09.15 France time)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
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