It may be that France are unpredictable in most things, but there were few surprises yesterday when coach Philippe Saint-Andre made 12 changes to his side for tomorrow’s Pool D tie against Canada at Milton Keynes.
The XV chosen includes 11 of those who started the tournament against Italy, and only three who started against Romania, and that number would be even greater had Yoann Huget not succumbed to injury that night and flown home and Wesley Fofana been fit to start.
This may not be France’s first-choice XV, but it is pretty damn close to it, and they will have 10 days to recover from their exertions against the North Americans before squaring up against Ireland in what should be the group decider in Cardiff on Sunday week.
“We have to keep in mind that each game can be crucial,” said Brice Dulin who starts on the wing but probably won’t against Ireland.
“We know that the Canadians are really physically. We’ll have to put a lot of pressure on them to prevent them from playing as they did against Italy.”
Remy Grosso gets his first Test cap on the wing after replacing Huget in the squad and a positive showing would put him up there with Noa Nakaitaci and Sofiane Guitoune for a place on the tramlines come the make-or-break outing on October 10.
Mathieu Bastareaud and Fofana get their first World Cup start together, but the half-backs, front and second rows are as-you-were for Italy. Louis Picamoles, the form number eight, is rested after starting twice already and in three of the warm-ups.
A sixth win on the trot may be the bottom line, but the impression is that France need to offer a performance some way improved than the pair offered thus far with some fluency in the back line a particular area of attention.
Meanwhile recalled Scotland flanker Blair Cowan insists he is ready to step up and face South Africa if required this Saturday.
The London Irish forward has rejoined Vern Cotter’s squad as an injury replacement for lock Grant Gilchrist, who will miss the rest of the World Cup after damaging his groin.
New Zealand-born Cowan was left devastated when he failed to make the Scots’ initial 31-man group for the tournament, despite starting all five of their matches during this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
He was left out of the travelling party as head coach Cotter gambled on taking just one specialist openside – John Hardie – south with him.
But his fellow Kiwi missed Sunday’s 39-16 win over the United States and Cotter has now decided to use Gilchrist’s departure to beef up his back-row options.
Hardie is back in training but Cowan insists he is ready to go straight into action if called upon when the Scots take on the Springboks in Newcastle with a quarter-final slot in reach.
He said: “The (coaches) know what I can do. I don’t need to prove myself. I just want to come up here and be positive. Even if it’s just in training, I’ll just bring some energy.
“And if I’m called up to play on Saturday am I ready? Yeah – just show me the jersey.”
Cowan, who qualifies for Scotland thanks to his Glasgow-born mother, feared his World Cup dream was over after missing Cotter’s first cut.
“It was devastating,” he said. “We all knew how close the seven role was. It was probably the tightest position in the whole squad.
“I was hugely aware (that being dropped) was a big possibility because of the performances the other boys were putting out there.
“But I’ve been through it all before. My career hasn’t been the smoothest, it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride so I know there are peaks and troughs you can go through.
“I just had to stay on my toes. There are some tight turnarounds at the World Cup so it’s inevitable that injuries would happen. Just look at Wales, they’ve had it tough.
“So to get the call-up is sensational. It’s every man’s dream. It’s just a shame it comes on the back of someone hurting themselves.
“I just saw the boys when I arrived and I was kind of caught off-guard by how stoked I was to see them. I was quite emotional. I’m just excited to be part of a World Cup now.”
The 29-year-old was preparing to face Harlequins with his club side on Friday night but will now hope to play a part as Scotland aim to collect their third straight Pool B win and with it a slot in the knockout stages.
Head coach Cotter does not think it will take him long to re-adjust.
Cotter said: “We’re all really disappointed for Grant who is an important player to the group, both as an athlete and as a decent human being.
“Blair, who comes in, was a bit unfortunate to miss out on selection in the initial 31-man group, but has shown great character to continue his work, stay fit and focussed, in case such an opportunity came up.
“He knows our systems well having spent a lot of time with this group before and during our pre-season campaign and will fit in seamlessly, and bring his freshness, leadership and enthusiasm to our training ahead of some very tough Test matches.”
S Spedding; R Grosso, M Bastareaud, W Fofana, B Dulin; F Michalak, S Tillous-Borde; E Ben Arous, G Guirado, R Slimani; P Pape, Y Maestri; T Dusatoir, B Le Roux, D Chouly.
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