The Sale Sharks forward has been used as a lock for Les Bleus’ first three matches of the RBS 6 Nations but will be unleashed as a flanker this weekend, with the French beefing up their pack for what is always their stand-out fixture of the tournament.
There are three personnel changes to the team that started the superb victory against Wales a week and a half ago, prop Lionel Faure and lock Jerome Thion coming into the pack and Francois Trinh-Duc replacing the injured Benoit Baby at fly-half.
Thion’s arrival in the second row means Chabal will move to his usual department at the back of the scrum, although not at his best position of number eight — that jersey is kept by Imanol Harinordoquy, France’s best player in the tournament so far.
France head coach Marc Lievremont, however, has wanted to try out the hirsute media icon at openside flanker for a while now and he believes a match against England is the perfect time to unleash the ‘Caveman’.
“The idea has been thrown about for a some time — it’s an interesting option,” said Lievremont. “He’s the only player who has this versatility in the second and back rows.
“I’ve said to myself for a while that, once we have controlled the rotation of our players up front, it could be an interesting option against a powerful team such as England or South Africa.
“We expect him to bring us his abilities to pierce a defence as powerful and dense as the English’s. We haven’t hesitated.
“He is a player who gets everywhere, a modern-style player. Although we don’t think that, despite his qualities, Sebastien can terrorise the English pack all by himself.”
Chabal, who will make his 46th appearance for Les Bleus, is well known to the English public owing to his successful five-year spell at the Sharks that will end this summer.
The 31-year-old admitted yesterday he will not miss England when he returns to play in France’s Top 14, probably for Toulon or Racing Metro, next season.
He also said playing at Twickenham against a country in which he plies his trade on a weekly basis has no particular bearing on him.
“This will be a match like any other,” he said bluntly. “It changes nothing for me.”
Chabal will be part of an experienced pack who will not be afraid of taking England on up front on Sunday. Six of France’s eight forwards are in their 30s; the return of Thion and Faure, as well as the continued presence of the evergreen Sylvain Marconnet, forcing up the team’s average age.
Lievremont believes it is a match where nous and experience will be paramount. “We can be happy that these players in their 30s are managing to last.”
Faure replaces Fabien Barcella, who will be Les Bleus’ 23rd man on Sunday.
Thion, 31, returns after almost a year in the international wilderness and will make his 45th appearance for his country after benefiting from an injury suffered by Romain Millo-Chluski at the weekend.
In the backs, scrum-half Morgan Parra will again assume kicking duties and will be partnered by Trinh-Duc, the young Montpellier fly-half.