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Pressure on France's Saint-André ahead of 'Le Crunch' in Paris

France host England on Saturday, but they’ve got some out-half worries ahead of the game.

Saint-André [right] with captain Pascal Papé.
Saint-André [right] with captain Pascal Papé.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

THIS SATURDAY SEES current Six Nations champions Wales open their title defence against Italy in Cardiff, but the real interest of the day lies in events in Paris.

France clash with England in ‘Le Crunch’, a fixture that has huge significance historically but even more importance in the short-term. Philippe Saint-André’s time in charge of Les Bleus has so far failed to inspire, but the former Gloucester coach sees 2014 as the year that will change everything.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that Saturday evening’s encounter [5.00pm Irish time] is the most important game of the Saint-André era so far. After a 2013 in which his side won just two of 11 fixtures, results are badly needed. The head coach has expressed his fears about foreign imports destroying the national team, but right now he has a squad with enough talent to win the Six Nations.

The loss of out-half Rémi Talès could not have come at a worse time for France, given that Saint-André has backed the Castres man as his starting 10 for their last five games. Having suffered an arm injury, the 29-year-old has been ruled out of contention this weekend, meaning an unexpected recall to the squad for François Trinh-Duc.

The Montpellier pivot has been out of international contention for the past year, and has faced open criticism of his kicking game and tactical understanding from Saint-André. Now, it appears the 2011 World Cup runner-up may well come directly back into the starting team.

The other option for France is the uncapped Stade Français playmaker Jules Plisson, who has been in electric form in the Top 14. His breaking threat has carved teams apart, while his passing has allowed his outside backs to excel. Plisson also has an excellent touch with drop goals, and his confidence is soaring.

image

Trinh-Duc is the more experienced option at out-half. ©INPHO/James Crombie.

The 22-year-old is uncapped though, and Saint-André will be hesitant to throw him in at the deep end against England. Regardless, Plisson would be the form choice.

With Morgan Parra unavailable for France until the third round of fixtures, getting the call at out-half right is vital for Saint-Andre. At least he is aware that England have experience worries of their own heading into this fixture.

It appears that Luther Burrell and Jack Nowell will make their debuts in Paris, alongside the one-cap Jonny May. All three are superb club players, and head coach Stuart Lancaster will be hopeful that that translates onto the international stage. The chance to see Nowell, who we picked as a young player to watch our for in 2014, at this level is an exciting one.

All of these selection dilemmas relate to the backlines of the respective teams, but this is a game in which the forward battle will be the key. France take huge pride in their scrummaging, particularly on home soil, while England possess some frighteningly powerful ball carriers in the pack. The collisions should be memorable and whichever side comes out on top in contact should win the game.

In a year in which there are many reasons to look forward to the Six Nations, this encounter on the first weekend is just one. For Saint-André, the excitement will be tinged with apprehension.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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