PARIS (AP) — Flyhalf Frederic Michalak was dropped Thursday among eight changes in the France team to play at England in the Six Nations.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre took drastic action for Saturday's match after losses away to Italy and at home to Wales — the first time since 1982 that France has started the tournament so badly. "After two defeats we had to make changes, increase competition and freshen things up," Saint-Andre said. "We know that the English are favorites. We will have to be brave, audacious and unpredictable.
"We will have to be combative. We know the English, and if you start struggling in the first exchanges it becomes very hard over the 80 minutes. You have to win the individual battles. If you win those it becomes much easier in a collective sense."
Saint-Andre has also left out scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud and reinstated No. 9 Morgan Parra and flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc — a more experienced halves pairing that led France to the Grand Slam in 2010. Parra was one of France's best players at the 2011 World Cup, although he was then playing in an unaccustomed role at flyhalf.
"Frederic has started the last six games, but he's struggling a bit more than usual," Saint-Andre said. "When you put Francois at flyhalf, it's normal to play him alongside Morgan. We know the experience he has and he is a world-class kicker, and they're used to playing with each other."
Hooker Dimitri Szarzewski makes way for Benjamin Kayser and winger Vincent Clerc returns from injury to take his place on the right wing, with Wesley Fofana returning to center alongside Mathieu Bastareaud to give France a compact look in midfield.
Christophe Samson comes in at lock for only his second cap and to challenge the English lineout. "We wanted to strengthen our lineout, the English have four or five jumpers," Saint-Andre said. "We also know about Christophe's mobility."
Flanker Yannick Nyanga comes in for Fulgence Ouedraogo, who has failed to recover after injuring his shoulder in the 16-6 home loss to Wales at Stade de France two weeks ago. France thrashed Australia 33-6 and then beat Argentina and Samoa to secure a top-four ranking for the 2015 World Cup, making it one of the favorites for the Six Nations.
"Not only did we win in November, but we had a very solid base," Saint-Andre said. "We had the same players in Italy, too. We had a strong base for 55 minutes and then exploded like popcorn." Saint-Andre expects the match at Twickenham to be harder than France's 23-18 loss in Rome.
"The match will be even tougher than against Wales and Italy, but it's sometimes in the difficult times that a team gets back on its feet," he said. "We have players of the highest level who are capable of lifting their heads up and moving forward together individually and collectively."
France: Yoann Huget, Vincent Clerc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Benjamin Fall, Francois Trinh-Duc, Morgan Parra; Louis Picamoles, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Yannick Nyanga, Yoann Maestri, Christophe Samson, Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo.
Reserves: Dimitri Szarzewski, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Jocelino Suta, Antoine Claassen, Maxime Machenaud, Frederic Michalak, Florian Fritz.