By Gavin Mortimer
SO FREDDY’S back. For the first time since 2007, Michalak will start a home Test match for France and Les Bleus will be all the better for it. The 30-year-old fly-half got the nod over Montpellier’s Francois Trinh-Duc, and Maxime Machenaud has kept out Morgan Parra at scrum-half. “We’re continuing from where we left off against Argentina,” explained French coach Philippe Saint-André, a reference to France’s last Test outing, a record 49-10 thrashing of the Pumas in June. “For us, it’s logical to restart with the same 2-8-9-10-15 axis. It was important to keep the skeleton of a team which has performed well.”
Michalak became so disillusioned with life when Marc Lievremont was coach of France that he took himself off to South Africa, starring for the Sharks and reminding the rugby world that only the conservative – or the cack-handed – would overlook such a talent. When Saint-Andre replaced Lievremont as national coach this time last year, he made little secret of his wish to see Michalak back in the fold. And despite the fact the wee man plays at scrum-half for Toulon (unable to wrest the 10 shirt from Jonny Wilkinson), Saint-Andre believes he can step up against the Wallabies.
France haven’t beaten Australia since 2005 and the last time the two countries clashed, at the Stade de France in November 2010, the French were humiliated 59-16. Should the tourists win on Saturday they’ll equal their best winning streak against the French, the six victories achieved between 1993 and 2000.
With flanker and captain Thierry Dusautoir still working his way back to fitness after a knee injury, France have selected two tearaway flankers in their attempt to win the battle at the breakdown. It will be the first time Fulgence Ouedraogo and Yannick Nynaga have played together for France. “Yannick will play more in the role of Thierry Dusauatoir,” explained Saint-Andre. “It will be up to him to win the ball on the floor and slow up the Australian game.”
Like Michalak, the 28-year-old Nyanga was a victim of Livermont’s incompetence. First selected for France by Bernard Laporte in 2004, the Toulouse breakaway won the last of his 25 caps in the 2007 World Cup. How a player of his athleticism and ball skills was snubbed for five years beggars belief.
In the front row Castres prop Yannick Forestier will be winning his first cap over the more experienced Thomas Domingo. “I have full trust in him,” Saint-Andre said of the 30-year-old Forestier whose career has been ravaged by injuries. The coach also has trust in Clermont’s creative centre Wesley Fofana adapting to the right wing.
In plumping for Maxime Mermoz and Florian Fritz as his centre pairing, Saint-Andre could be accused of abusing the talents of Fofana, but he’s confident he’s made the right decision. “We did not want to deprived ourselves of his ability to accelerate, of his speed. He’s an atypical player. He already played as a winger and even the Australians start a number 13 on the wing with [Adam] Ashley-Cooper.”
The Aussies, meanwhile, have made three changes to the XV that held the All Blacks to an 18-18 draw in Brisbane last month. Sekope Kepu starts at prop in place of James Slipper , Kane Douglas takes over from Sitaleki Timani and Dave Dennis replaces the suspended Scott Higginbotham on the blindside.
“The atmosphere at the Stade de France is always fantastic and the crowd vociferous,” said coach Robbie Deans. “It’s a great place to play the game, and a magnificent experience that none of the players who are fortunate enough to put on a jersey on the weekend will ever forget.”