FRANCE HEAD COACH Philippe Saint-André has selected Frédéric Michalak at out-half in his XV to face Australia in the first game of a three-Test series this Saturday [KO 11.00am Irish time].
The mercurial Toulon playmaker has not started for Les Bleus since last summer’s tour of New Zealand, when he wore the number 10 shirt in a comprehensive 30-0 defeat to Steve Hansen’s side.
Michalak was first-choice out-half for France during the 2013 Six Nations, but has since fallen behind Rémi Talès in the pecking order, while Jules Plisson was preferred at 10 during this year’s Six Nations.
However, with Talès being rested this weekend after playing in the Top 14 final last Saturday, Michalak has his chance at redemption.
Saint-André may have some concerns over the 31-year-old’s match fitness, considering that his most recent game was over a month ago [against Stade Français on the 3rd of May]. Michalak played no part in the knock-out stages of the Top 14 or Heineken Cup as Toulon claimed a double.
The former Toulouse star has started just 10 games this season, seven of which came at out-half. His performances there have been impressive, admittedly, but playing him at 10 against the Wallabies remains a risk.
Meanwhile, Saint-André has handed Félix Le Bourhis a debut on the left wing, despite the Bordeaux man having played the vast majority of his professional rugby in the centre. The 26-year-old helped UBB to a highly creditable eighth-place finish in the Top 14 this season.
Gaël Fickou and Wesley Fofana form a potentially thrilling midfield partnership, with Hugo Bonneval and Yoann Huget providing finishing power and counter-attacking brilliance in the back three.
Sébastien Vahaamahina comes into the second row, with Six Nations captain Pascal Papé having been axed, while Nicolas Mas leads the team from the front row in the Stade Français man’s stead.
The likes of Brice Dulin, Morgan Parra [who covers scrum-half and out-half], Rémi Lamerat, Vincent Debaty and Christopher Tolofua offer compelling impact options from the bench.
France (v Australia): Hugo Bonneval; Yoann Huget, Gaël Fickou, Wesley Fofana, Félix Le Bourhis; Frédéric Michalak, Maxime Machenaud; Thomas Domingo, Guilhem Guirado, Nicolas Mas (capt.); Sébastien Vahaamahina, Yoann Maestri; Fulgence Ouedraogo, Bernard Le Roux, Damien Chouly.Replacements: Christopher Tolofua, Vincent Debaty, Rabah Slimani, Alexandre Flanquart, Antoine Burban, Morgan Parra, Rémi Lamerat, Brice Dulin.