Brunel unveils his 'Bok beaters'
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: French coach Jacques Brunel has named the team to take on South Africa in their Test in Paris on Saturday.
Les Bleus received a timely boost with the news that Louis Picamoles will make his first start for France for almost a year.
The Montpellier No.8 has had a strong start to the Top 14 campaign and after a sole replacement appearance in the Six Nations earlier this year – against Scotland in Edinburgh – he’ll be on from the start for the first time since a draw with Japan in Paris last November.
Damian Penaud, whose five previous caps for Les Bleus have all come at centre, will make his maiden international appearance as a wing, opposite Teddy Thomas – who memorably notched three tries in the opening two games of the 2018 Six Nations.
There is also an end to the injury hell that has dogged the last 18 months for flyhalf Camille Lopez, as he will pull on the No.10 jersey to form a half-back pairing with Baptiste Serin.
Hooker Guilhem Guirado will skipper the side that runs out at the Stade de France, while Sébastien Vahaamahina is preferred to Paul Gabrillagues in the second row.
Despite his brilliant form since joining Stade Francais this summer, Gael Fickou must settle for a place on the bench – with Brunel opting for Geoffrey Doumayrou and Mathieu Bastareaud as his centre partnership – and Arthur Iturria returns at flanker.
Brunel confirmed predictions of two surprise selections – with the naming of Arthur Iturria at flank.
Iturria, 24, has played at lock in all three of his previous France games but has been pulled back a notch by Brunel following a recent switch of position at his Top 14 club.
Iturria’s last cap for France came against Scotland at the Six Nations last February, when he was one of several partygoers from the France team sidelined from the squad.
“[Serin] is having a great start to the season, he’s played a lot of quality games,” said Brunel.
“Dupont came back to the fold late following his injury but has showed he’s coming back to form in recent matches.”
Brunel meanwhile said he couldn’t resist trying Iturria at flank, after discussing the change with Clermont sporting director Franck Azema.
“I spoke to Franck, he had the idea to try him on the back row,”the coach said.
“He’s in great form.
“In the second row he suffered a lot of injuries, including a lot of concussions,” added Brunel.
“This position suits him better. He adds quality with the duels in the air, brings his game intelligence, technique and movement.”
Les Bleus will be keen to put a tricky summer tour of New Zealand behind them as they build towards the 2019 Six Nations.
A game against Argentina in Lille and Fiji, back at the Stade de France, follow the South Africa clash, with Brunel having admitted that he is keen to build depth in his squad this autumn.
France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Damian Penaud, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Gael Fickou.
Date: Saturday, November 10
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (22.00 SA time; 20.00 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)