There's plenty of debate over France's midfield selection for the World Cup
It’s not just England who have problems in the midfield. While time is running down for Stuart Lancaster to decide his best centre partnership, France coach Philippe Saint-André has a similar conundrum.
Last season PSA went through five starting combinations in eight Internationals, finishing by fielding Gael Fickou and Maxime Mermoz against England at Twickenham. Though France lost 55-35 they did score five tries – one more than their sum total in the previous four games of the Six Nations – and Mermoz and Fickou played with a creativity missing for much of PSA’s reign.
Not that it did Mermoz much good. To general surprise, the Toulon centre was omitted from PSA’s World Cup squad, as was Jonathan Danty, the 22-year-old Stade Francais centre, who made such an impression during the Parisian club’s march to the Top 14 title. Danty was named by Midi Olympique as their centre of the season, which makes his exclusion from France’s 36-man squad all the more baffling.
Instead PSA stuck with what he knows, selecting as his five centres Mathieu Bastareaud, Rémi Lamerat, Wesley Fofana, Alexandre Dumoulin and Fickou. Bastareaud, by all accounts, has benefited from the three-week extensive training camp that the squad underwent last month, shedding several kilos and looking fitter than he has done in seasons. ‘Basta’ will definitely make PSA’s final squad of 31, though Midi Olympique predicts he’s unlikely to make the first-choice XV. Rather he’ll be used “in case it rains, predictable in September in England”.
English Septembers have actually been glorious in recent years, so if it is France’s plan to save Bastareaud for a rainy day, he might not be seen much during the World Cup. Fofana and Fickou would both enjoy the hard grounds of late summer but while the former is guaranteed to make the final squad, Fickou and Lamerat, the solidly-built Castres centre, must prove themselves in the warm-up matches against England and Scotland this month.
So must Dumoulin, the man who ousted Jamie Roberts from the Racing XV last season with his powerful running and intelligent offloading. It’s no secret PSA and Patrice Lagisquet, France’s backs coach, covet the skills of the 25-year-old known to his team-mates as ‘Dumoule’. At 6ft 2in and 15st, he’s similar in size to the great Yannick Jauzion, the Toulouse centre whose physique belied his soft hands and sharp brain.
Dumoulin made his debut in last November’s win against Fiji and the following week won his second cap against Australia. He lasted only the first half of the victory over the Wallabies but in that time demonstrated his defensive qualities, in particular with one scything tackle on Israel Folau.
But those 113 minutes have been the extent of Dumoulin’s international career with an Achilles injury sidelining him for the duration of the Six Nations. No bad thing, probably, as les Bleus never played with the same elan that they’d managed against Fiji and Australia.
It was during his rehabilitation that Dumoulin made public what had been an open secret among the French rugby press for years: that he was the illegitimate son of Marc Cécillon, the former France flanker and captain who spent five years in prison for shooting his wife dead. Dumoulin made the announcement in January, a pre-emptive strike against unnamed British tabloids who were apparently going to break the story during the Six Nations.
Six months on Dumoulin says that revealing the name of his biological father caused him no pain. “Not at all,” he said in a recent interview in which he came across as a remarkably balanced and level-headed young man. “I knew very early (at five years old) that I’d been born to a father who hadn’t acknowleged my birth. I’ve lived with that since I’ve been very small. There has been no secret and it’s therefore not something which has restrained my life as a man. I had a happy childhood and today I am still happy.”
Dumoulin turns 26 on 24 August but he won’t be receiving a card from Cécillon, who’s never contacted his son. “I’ve been raised with affection, by my mother and my stepfather, whom I’ve always considered as my father,” he said. “(But) if one day there’s a rapprochement to make, then it will happen.”
PSA announces the names of the 31 players he’ll be taking to the World Cup on 23 August. Should Dumoulin’s name be among them, it will be some present for a young man mature beyond his years.
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