We’re in ‘competition mode’, warn French

FRANCE coach Marc Lièvremont has thrown down the gauntlet to his players ahead of Saturday’s World Cup warm-up with Ireland in Bordeaux by declaring that Les Bleus are now in “competition mode”.

Powerful Biarritz Olympique No.8 Raphael Lafakia has been handed a first appearance in national colours after a hugely impressive Top 14 campaign while there is also the return of young Perpignan centre Maxime Mermoz to a side which shows only four survivors from France’s 25-22 win at the Aviva Stadium in February.

“We’re looking forward to it,” explained Lièvremont at the team announcement in Bordeaux yesterday.

“I felt the tension at the team announcement, even though the match is only a friendly. There is a lot expected after five weeks of training camps.”

Despite the wholesale changes from the Six Nations campaign, France have retained an experienced and formidable core for Saturday’s clash, with veterans such as Vincent Clerc, Dimitri Yachvilli, Sylvain Marconnet and Dimitri Szarzewski joining Damien Traille, Imanol Harinordoquy and Thierry Dusautoir.

Lièvremont explained that he wanted to be able to put out two teams of a similar standard for the back-to-back games against Ireland.

“We feel ready,” said the 42-year-old. “There is a reason in wanting to put out two good teams [for the two games] by lining up two teams of a similar quality. It’s a mixture of youth and experience in every area. “We’ve moved into competition mode.”

Injuries to props Thomas Domingo and Nicolas Mas, and Toulouse hooker William Servat, have deprived Lièvremont of his Six Nations starting front row for Saturday’s game.

However he said he expected both Servat and Mas to get some game time at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week while he confirmed that Domingo would be fit to travel to New Zealand.

Lièvremont had better news concerning long-term absentee Fabien Barcella.

The Biarritz prop missed most of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon and was scheduled to play in Bordeaux on Saturday, only to injure an arm in training last week.

However the France coach insisted that he too would see some game time in Dublin.

Despite the injury concerns up front, Lièvremont has been able to name a relatively experienced front row, with veteran prop Marconnet joining hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and Castrais Luc Ducalcon to form a formidable trio.

FRANCE: Traille; Clerc, Marty, Mermoz, Palisson; Trinh-Duc, Yachvili; Marconnet, Szarzewski, Ducalcon, Pierre, Millo-Chluski, Dusautoir (capt), Harinordoquy, Lakafia.

Replacements: Guirado, Poux, Nallet, Bonnaire, Parra, Skrela, Medard.

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