MARCOUSSIS, February 3 – France coach Marc Lievremont lived up to his tinkering reputation by again making wholesale changes to his team to play Scotland in their Six Nations opener Sunday.Only five players remain from the side beaten 39-12 by New Zealand in November (Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Thierry Dusautoir and Francois Trinh-Duc), with the whole backline changed.
Five players – Fabien Barcella, Romain Millo-Chluski, Sebastien Chabal, Maxime Mermoz and Damien Traille – were ruled out through injury for the first match of a tournament that has seen France notch up two disappointing third-place finishes in the last two seasons.
The most notable returnee from the international wilderness is Mathieu Bastareaud, who has not played for France since he falsely claimed to have been beaten up by thugs on a tour to New Zealand in 2009 seven months ago.
He will be winning his fifth cap and hoping to relaunch his international career, playing alongside Yannick Jauzion at inside centre.
"He must play to the best of his abilities without asking too many questions of himself," Lievremont said of the 21-year-old Stade Francais player.
"He already knew how to develop his game, it’s extremely interesting.
"We hope that what happened a few months ago allowed him to grow up, to gain maturity," said Lievremont, who has called up some 70 players in the 21 matches of which he’s been in charge.
The return of 20-year-old right Bayonne winger Benjamin Fall, who scored a try against Samoa on his international debut in November, means Toulouse’s Vincent Clerc is relegated to the bench with Julien Malzieu out of the match-day 22.
Speaking of Fall, backs coach Emile Ntamack said: "He’s a young player who has shown a huge potential. It’s interesting to see him back at this level in a more testing context."
Clermont captain Aurelien Rougerie will line up for his 56th cap, the first since he contributed to victory over Italy on March 9, 2008.
Completing the back three is Toulouse back Clement Poitrenaud, who has not played for ‘Les Bleus’ since victory over Scotland in last year’s Six Nations campaign.
Lievremont will also send Clermont prop Thomas Domingo in for only his second full cap, having debuted against Samoa.
Perpignan prop Mas and Toulouse hooker Servat complete the forward line ahead of locks Lionel Nallet and Pascal Pape.
In the back row, Imanol Harinordoquy of Biarritz will be flanked by Montpellier’s Ouedraogo and captain Dusautoir.
Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra play at half-back, with Lievremont naming the versatile Jean-Baptiste Elissalde on the bench as a luxury replacement.
Doubts remain however over the participation of Trinh-Duc. Although not included among the replacements fly-half Benjamin Boyet will remain with the squad in case the Montpellier player pulls out.
Lievremont said Trinh-Duc, who started in the last three games of France’s summer tour, had recently undergone "reassuring" scans but did not specify for what.