France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has recalled No 8 Louis Picamoles and Fiji-born winger Noa Nakaitaci to face Ireland in a key World Cup pool decider on Sunday.
Picamoles, who will win his 50th cap, and Nakaitaci both started the first two France matches, but sat out the 41-18 win over Canada. They return to the starting XV in place of Bernard Le Roux and Remy Grosso respectively.
Damien Chouly switches from number eight against Canada to openside flanker in the one positional change, Le Roux named on the bench and Grosso missing out altogether.
The match at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is crucial as the winner will probably avoid a quarter final against defending champions New Zealand.
The starting XV comprises 13 starters from France’s opening match, a 32-10 win over Italy, with the only changes being the then-injured Wesley Fofana for Alexandre Dumoulin at inside centre and Brice Dulin for Yoann Huget, whose World Cup was ended by an injury in that match.
Nakaitaci will play on the right wing, having played on the left in his first two matches, with Brice Dulin lining up on the other flank in a team captained by flanker Thierry Dusautoir and featuring 10 survivors from France’s 18-11 Six Nations defeat by Ireland in February.
Dulin is normally a full-back, but Saint-Andre insisted his abilities under the high ball meant his selection was not unexpected.
“Ireland have a very attacking kicking game and score lots of points off up-and-unders and cross-field kicks,” Saint-Andre said.
“So to start with two players who are full-backs is a bid to unnerve the Irish and have options for counter-attacking.”
Sebastien Tillous-Borde and veteran Frederic Michalak continue as the half-back pairing.
“The pairing works well,” stressed Saint-Andre, who never lost to Ireland as a player in his illustrious France career but has never overseen a victory since taking over as coach in the 2012 Six Nations.
“We beat England (25-20), Scotland (19-16), Italy (32-10) and Canada (41-18) with it.
“Fred Michalak is like a red wine, he only gets better with age. And importantly, he is, along with Morgan Parra, the only back with World Cup experience.”
The players, Saint-Andre added, were “starving” to take to the pitch against Ireland, the winner of the match coming out on top of Pool D and avoiding champions New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
“I think all the pressure is on the shoulders of Ireland. They are favourites and it would be a huge shame for them if they lost on Sunday,” Saint-Andre said, adding: “If you want to be world champion, it’s good to win your pool matches.
“Sunday’s match is against one of world’s leading rugby powers, fifth in the rankings.
“There might be 35 or 40,000 Irish fans in the stadium with a closed roof for what will be a very intense, high quality game. I trust in the 15,000 who will make some noise for us!
“Our first goal was to win the first three pool games to qualify for the quarter-finals. Now it’s all about focusing on Sunday’s match.”
France team (15-1) to play Ireland in World Cup Pool D decider at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 1545 GMT):
Scott Spedding; Brice Dulin, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Noa Nakaitaci; Frederic Michalak, Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Louis Picamoles, Damien Chouly, Thierry Dusautoir (capt); Pascal Pape, Yoann Maestri; Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado, Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: Benjamin Kayser, Vincent Debaty, Nicolas Mas, Alexandre Flanquart, Bernard Le Roux, Morgan Parra, Remi Tales, Alexandre Dumoulin
– Agence France-Presse