PARIS (AP) — France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has responded to consecutive defeats to Italy and Wales in the Six Nations championship by making five changes to the squad to face Grand Slam contender England at Twickenham.
World Cup runner-up France lost 16-6 at home to Wales in a shambolic performance on Saturday, following the galling 23-18 loss to Italy in Rome — the first time it has started a campaign with consecutive defeats since 1982.
"After these defeats, we've made five changes because it is necessary to freshen up the squad mentally and physically," Saint-Andre said Monday as he prepared for the game on Feb. 23. "We want to get the team spirit back that we had in November."
The level of France's performances is even more surprising after the way it performed so well during the Autumn tests in November, where it thrashed Australia and convincingly beat Argentina to secure a top-four ranking for the 2015 World Cup.
Winger Vincent Clerc, who has 34 international tries, is recalled after missing the two matches because of a thigh injury and his presence was sorely missed. He is only four tries short of Serge Blanco's national record.
Prop Thomas Domingo, lock Christophe Samson, backrower Antoine Claassen and flanker Yannick Nyanga are the others to return. Claassen and Samson are uncapped. "Antonie Claassen is the type of player who can bring us power and movement," Saint-Andre said. "He can play at six (flanker) or No. 8. We've been following him for the past 15 months."
No. 8 Damien Chouly, prop Yannick Forestier, center Maxime Mermoz, flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo and lock Sebastien Taofifenua are the players to make way, although Ouedraogo's absence is due to a shoulder injury he sustained against Wales.
"We need players who are 100 percent for Twickenham," Saint-Andre said. "After medical advice, it's preferable that Fulgence gets treatment and rests so that he can be in contention for the last two matches of the tournament."
With Mermoz out, Wesley Fofana will likely revert back to his best position at center alongside the burly Mathieu Bastareaud, one of the few France players to play well against the Welsh — who ended a dismal run of eight straight defeats by securing their first win in France since the 2005 Grand Slam.
In contrast to the despondent French, fierce rival England has made a solid start to the campaign, thumping Scotland 38-18 and overcoming Ireland 12-6 in Dublin in a gritty territorial contest that was settled by the unwavering accuracy of flyhalf Owen Farrel's boot.
"The English are impressive in terms of power and pragmatism and we want to put into place a veritable commando (operation) to go to Twickenham," Saint-Andre said. "We have to be more aggressive in order to be first to the ball in the air, on the ground in the rucks."
France's two defeats mean it is effectively in wooden-spoon territory as all of the other teams have won. France then has to travel to face Ireland before hosting Scotland at Stade de France. But Saint-Andre is adamant France can upset the odds and beat England.
"We won't give in, we will go to London with the will to do better, to make things up to our fans and to win this match because I am sure we can do it," he said. ___(equals) Forwards: Vincent Debaty, Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Dimitri Szarzewski, Luc Ducalcon, Nicolas Mas, Yoann Maestri, Christophe Samson, Jocelino Suta, Antoine Claassen, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Yannick Nyanga, Louis Picamoles. Backs: Maxime Machenaud, Morgan Parra, Frederic Michalak, Francois Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud, Vincent Clerc, Benjamin Fall, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Yoann Huget.