French guessing game as Laporte ponders changes

A LOT has been made of Bernard Laporte’s insistence on experimentation for this year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship, but it will be interesting to see if France’s head coach sticks to his word following the comprehensive opening day rout of beleaguered Italy.

For the likes of Sebastien Chabal and David Skrela, who enjoyed glorious returns to the international scene at the Stadio Flaminio, being dropped to the reserves for Sunday’s historic Croke Park clash against Ireland would be particularly hard to stomach.

But that is what could happen if Laporte tinkers with his line-up as he promised he would do, in order to give everyone in his squad of 40 a chance to prove their worth ahead of the World Cup.

Such a policy has left even his captain Raphael Ibanez slightly bemused.

“Well, it’s certainly a new concept! But we have to accept it. The main thing is, if you get picked in the team, you have to deliver because other people are waiting to play in the next game. We all want to play in the next World Cup.

“We don’t know what the coaching staff are going to do. Maybe they will stay with the same team, maybe they won’t – no-one knows. It is all new to us as well!”

Fly-half Skrela kicked 11 points on his return to the team, five-and-a-half years after his first and only previous appearance for France.

He also struck up an impressive partnership with scrum-half Pierre Mignoni, and they orchestrated a strong display from both the pack and the backs.

The Stade Francais star also confessed to being in the dark about Laporte’s plans, but is desperate to play at Croke Park after finally getting his hands on the France number 10 jersey again.

“It’s not my choice. But if I get the chance to play next week, it will be good for me,” said Skrela. “For me, the France team seemed a long way away. Suddenly I have been given the chance to play again and I took it.

“Now I want to play again, hopefully against Ireland. But who knows?”

Whatever happens, it is clear France have got over their problems of last November, a month that saw them lose twice to New Zealand and scrape to an unconvincing 27-26 win over Argentina.

A combination of obdurate defending and clinical, rapier-like finishing saw off Italy. If only France had confidence in themselves, wondered Ibanez and Chabal.

“Sometimes the French team lacks a bit of mental strength,” said Ibanez. “Mentally we were right here. And when the French are right, nothing can stop us.

“Physically we will be there against Ireland, but mentally we need more leaders on the pitch to take that extra step. This win will help us with that.”

Chabal added: “When we were in the changing room, I looked round and said to the players: ‘Look around you. Look at the 22 we have in this room. We can’t lose’.

“All the players involved are fantastic. It is a lot easier to play when you have the likes of Yannick Jauzion, Christophe Dominici, Jerome Thion. Everybody knows France don’t start these tournaments well but we have this time.”

Italy scorers — Pens: Pez.

ITALY: De Marigny, Dallan, Canale, M. Bergamasco, Masi, Scanavacca, Griffen, Perugini, Ongaro, Nieto, Dellape, Bortolami, Sole, M. Bergamasco, Parisse.

Replacements: Robertson for Canale (78), Pez for Scanavacca (12), Troncon for Griffen (70), Festuccia for Perugini (48), Lo Cicero for Ongaro (48), Castrogiovanni for Nieto (48), Mandelli for Dellape (68).

France scorers — Tries: Dominici, Heymans, Chabal 2, Jauzion. Cons: Skrela 4. Pens: Skrela, Beauxis.

FRANCE: Poitrenaud, Heymans, Fritz, Jauzion, Dominici, Skrela, Mignoni, Milloud, Ibanez, De Villiers, Thion, Nallet, Betsen, Bonnaire, Chabal.

Replacements: Beauxis for Fritz (67), Marconnet for Milloud (57), Szarzewski for Ibanez (57), Harinordoquy for Bonnaire (65), Pape for Chabal (72).

Referee: W. Barnes (England).

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