Elissalde was not only expected to be Les Bleus’ starting scrum-half at Croke Park but also the back-up to out-half Lionel Beauxis. But the Toulouse number nine failed to make the cut as head coach Marc Lievremont yesterday trimmed his squad from the 30 he named last week for a training camp held over the past three days at France’s base in Marcoussis.
Bourgoin’s Morgan Parra and Castres’ Sebastien Tillous-Borde, who have only a handful of caps between them, have been preferred at scrum-half.
Biarritz back-row forward Imanol Harinordoquy, who was not part of that enlarged training squad as he recovered from a knee injury, has been drafted in by Lievremont for the Ireland match but the main talking point was Elissalde’s omission.
“We know the talent, the dominance and the impact on the group of Jean-Baptiste. He can come back into the group at any time,” Lievremont said.
“The non-selection of Jean-Baptiste reflects a little less the hierarchy as it does in other positions. We are going to give some game time and some experience to Morgan Parra and Sebastien Tillous-Borde.”
Lievremont added Yannick Jauzion or Parra would fill in at out-half should anything happen to Beauxis, who is the only specialist out-half in the squad.
Harinordoquy was one of France’s best players in autumn internationals against Argentina, the Pacific Islanders and Australia.
And with Lievremont stressing the need for continuity in his squads from now on, Harinordoquy was always likely to be called up once he proved his fitness.
He did so last Friday, playing 55 minutes in Biarritz’s Heineken Cup win over Gloucester.
“The training camp, though, has not been the be all and end all in terms of our choices,” Lievremont added.
“The decisions were tricky but we said we were going to lean towards those who gave us satisfaction in the autumn. That explains the return of Imanol Harinordoquy.”
Julien Bonnaire and Damien Chouly are the back-rowers to make way for Harinordoquy.
Elsewhere, in-form Toulouse centre Florian Fritz is included even though he has been struggling with a thigh problem this week. He is one of three centres called up, along with Jauzion and Benoit Baby.
Toulouse full-back Clement Poitrenaud also makes the cut but is likely to play second fiddle to Maxime Medard, who is the man most likely to fill the number 15 jersey.
Centre Maxime Mermoz and wingers Aurelien Rougerie and Alexis Palisson are the backs to miss out while, in the forwards, hooker Guilhem Guirado and lock Jerome Thion will return to their clubs after failing to be selected.
Lievremont is under pressure to pick up results this tournament as he starts his second year in charge of Les Bleus.
He rotated his players in the 2008 Six Nations and France ending up finishing third in the table after losing to England and Wales.
Lievremont was also forced to experiment in the summer, with the tour to Australia clashing with the semi-finals of the Top 14 play-offs. He went with what he believed to be his best squad for the November Tests and will do so again in the Six Nations, despite admitting the temporary exclusion of Elissalde was planned to give his other scrum-halves experience.
Lievremont is delighted with the players he has at his disposal for the Six Nations, but also believes the country has strength in depth, with the likes of David Skrela, Vincent Clerc, William Servat and Damien Traille ready to come back into the reckoning.
“The training camp went particularly well; the team spirit and the application was perfect. It is special to work with such a tight-knit group,” he said.
Backs: M Medard, C Poitrenaud, C Heymans (all Toulouse), J Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne), Y Jauzion, F Fritz (both Toulouse), B Baby (Clermont-Auvergne), L Beauxis (Stade Francais), S Tillous-Borde (Castres), M Parra (Bourgoin).
Forwards: F Barcella (Biarritz), L Faure (Sale), F Lecouls (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), B Kayser (Leicester), L Nallet (Castres), R Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), S Chabal (Sale), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz), F Ouedraogo, L Picamoles (both Montpellier), T Dusautoir (Toulouse).