Midfield boost for high-flying France
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Barnstorming centre Virimi Vakatawa has handed France a massive boost after being named in the team to play Wales in the Six Nations on Saturday.
Vakatawa, of Fijian heritage, has been one of this season’s form players, melding a brutally powerful game with offloads and quick footwork.
But he sustained a triceps injury in France’s opening 24-17 win over England and sat out the 35-22 victory over Italy.
Vakatawa will pair up with ex-France under-20s captain Arthur Vincent in midfield, Gael Fickou sliding out on to the wing in the absence of Damian Penaud and Vincent Rattez. Anthony Bouthier and Teddy Thomas complete the back three.
Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are named at half-back, with the pack unchanged from the win over Italy.
Charles Ollivon skippers the side from openside flank, packing down alongside Gregory Alldritt and Francois Cros.
There is again an all-South African lock pairing of Bernard Le Roux and Paul Willemse, while the front row comprises Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand and Cyril Baille.
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There is, however, no place in the match-day squad of 23 for prop Jefferson Poirot, France’s vice-captain at last year’s World Cup in Japan.
The bench sees the return of hooker Camille Chat, while Toulouse prop Jean-Baptiste Gros, 20, is in line to win his first cap.
Lyon flank Dylan Cretin and Toulouse fullback Thomas Ramos both also make their returns to the bench, completed by prop Demba Bamba, lock Romain Taofifenua, and half-backs Baptiste Serin and Mathieu Jalibert.
France: 15 Anthony Bouthier, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Arthur Vincent, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Francois Cros, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Dylan Cretin, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Mathieu Jalibert, 23 Thomas Ramos
Date: Saturday, February 22
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 16.45 (17.45 France; 16.45 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)