“Furthermore, his performances in training confirmed his potential to us,” Galthié said in naming his team on Thursday “We asked him to organize, we gave him tasks, and we saw that he responded well to all the situations he needed to.”
Haouas only started playing rugby at 15 because of sports instructors who were teaching children rugby in the area he lived in around Montpellier. Galthié has been impressed by his hunger and potential, although he acknowledges picking him ahead of the more established Demba Bamba is somewhat risky.
“We have no guarantees regarding him, the answer will be on Sunday. The only truth in sport is on the field,” Galthié said. “Up until now, he's done what we've asked of him well. On Sunday he''ll be confronted with a much more difficult challenge, another dimension where you reach your limits.”
Hooker Julien Marchand earned only his third test in an enforced change given the absence of the injured Camille Chat. Although Bouthier replaces veteran Maxime Médard, and the explosive yet inconsistent right winger Teddy Thomas takes Yoann Huget's place, Galthié has kept faith with the other backs who did well at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The burly Damian Penaud is at left wing, with Virimi Vakatawa alongside Gaël Fickou in a strong looking midfield. Flyhalf Romain Ntamack will pull the strings with scrumhalf Antoine Dupont. “It was our halves pairing during the World Cup. We were totally satisfied with it,” Galthié said. “They played well, and because we think that you need continuity to build a team, we're counting on them to develop our potential.”
Uncapped back-rowers Cameron Woki and Boris Palu are on the bench alongside experienced prop Jefferson Poirot, who is expected to come on against World Cup runner-up England at Stade de France. Flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert, whose international debut was curtailed by a serious knee injury against Ireland two years ago, returns to join the reserves. Scrumhalf Baptiste Serin provides strong cover.
Galthié has given the team and the coaching staff a massive revamp after officially taking over the ineffective Jacques Brunel following the World Cup, where he was one of Brunel's assistants. France narrowly lost to Wales in a tense quarterfinal.
Galthié, a former standout scrumhalf who won 64 test caps with Les Tricolors, has shown several thirtysomethings the door. Captain Guilhem Guiardo retired and was replaced by back-rower Charles Ollivon.
With seven backroom staff on board, the workload has significantly increased on a France side which has chronically lacked endurance and sharpness in recent years.
France: Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gaël Fickou, Damian Penaud, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Grégory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (captain), François Cros, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Peato Mauvaka, Jefferson Poirot, Demba Bemba, Boris Palu, Cameron Woki, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, Vincent Rattez.
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