Also-ran France resets with 8 changes for Six Nations match at winless Wales - Hindustan Times
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Also-ran France resets with 8 changes for Six Nations match at winless Wales

AP |
Mar 09, 2024 04:01 AM IST

Also-ran France resets with 8 changes for Six Nations match at winless Wales

The Six Nations title is beyond France's reach.

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Three rounds — featuring a win, draw, loss — is the earliest stage France has fallen out of title contention on coach Fabien Galthié's watch.

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It could so easily be three defeats after lucky last-second outcomes against Scotland ( non-try ) and Italy ( hit goalpost ).

France's nosedive in results and form only five months after the Rugby World Cup it hosted has attracted the most criticism in Galthié’s tenure. He has responded by rolling the dice and making an eye-popping eight changes to the starting XV, including three debuts for their visit to Wales on Sunday in Cardiff. There's another uncapped player in the reserves.

They are the most changes for a single game by Galthié. And its the first time in eight years France has given starting debuts to at least three players in the Six Nations.

To do that, Galthié dropped Peato Mauvaka, Cameron Woki, Paul Boudehent, Maxime Lucu and Matthis Lebel. Also out were teenage lock Posolo Tuilagi, who was reportedly sick, flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert, knee injury; and inside center Jonathan Danty, suspended for five weeks for an upright tackle against Italy.

All but Lebel and Tuilagi were at the World Cup.

In their place have come hooker Julien Marchand, locks Thibaud Flament and the uncapped Emmanuel Meafou, fit-again captain Gregory Alldritt, scrumhalf Nolann Le Garrec and wing Louis Bielle-Biarrey. Thomas Ramos has switched from fullback to flyhalf, where he finished against Italy after Jalibert was injured, and 21-year-old backs Nicolas Depoortere in midfield and Léo Barré at fullback will play their first test.

La Rochelle tighthead Georges-Henri Colombe could become the fourth debutant if he comes off the bench.

On paper, France looks strong and fused with new energy. Alldritt should restore some poise and tough ball-carrying, and Le Garrec has showed he's quicker behind the rucks.

“Our challenge is to find the right balance,” Galthié said. "We have to accept happiness but also pain and suffering. But what's certain is that I'm not satisfied with our results.

“We'll soon be better. We're going through a difficult period. We're in a cycle where we're not at our best.”

The introduction of 2.03-meter, 145-kilogram Meafou excites French fans the most. Since he arrived in France in 2018, he's helped Toulouse win three Top 14s and the 2021 European Cup.

Born to Samoan parents in New Zealand, Meafou was raised in Australia. He committed to France when he arrived, passed his French language exam in 2022 and received French citizenship last November. In anticipation of him becoming a test player, he's trained with France for nearly a year. A knee injury delayed his debut.

“Emmanuel Meafou's eligibility had been expected for over a year,” Galthié said. “We were waiting for him. It took a long time to come. Now he's ready.”

For all of France's woes, Wales has had an even worse time. The Welsh have lost 10 of their last 11 Six Nations matches. They have lost to Scotland, England and Ireland, and their home match with Italy next week looks like deciding the wooden spoon.

Wales believed this was the ideal time to axe centers George North and Nick Tompkins — a combined 155 caps — and try out Joe Roberts and Owen Watkin, who have 38 caps. Roberts’ only cap was in August and Watkin last appeared in the opener against Scotland. Coach Warren Gatland said they're looking toward the next World Cup.

Captain Dafydd Jenkins has also been moved from lock to the blindside flank for the first time in his pro career to accommodate France-based Will Rowlands, who has come off the bench in the last two matches.

Also back starting was hooker Ryan Elias, who has been responsible for eight of Wales’ 10 misplaced lineout throws.

“We desperately want to win,” Gatland said. “We know we're not quite there and there's a lot of work to do. But we've put ourselves in games and put teams under pressure.”

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Lineups:

Wales: Cameron Winnett, Josh Adams, Joe Roberts, Owen Watkin, Rio Dyer, Sam Costelow, Tomos Williams; Aaron Wainwright, Tommy Reffell, Dafydd Jenkins (captain), Adam Beard, Will Rowlands, Keiron Assiratti, Ryan Elias, Gareth Thomas. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Corey Domachowski, Dillon Lewis, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Gareth Davies, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady.

France: Léo Barré, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Nicolas Depoortere, Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Thomas Ramos, Nolann Le Garrec; Gregory Alldritt (captain), Charles Ollivon, Francois Cros, Emmanuel Meafou, Thibaud Flament, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Peato Mauvaka, Sebastien Taofifenua, Georges-Henri Colombe, Romain Taofifenua, Alexandre Roumat, Paul Boudehent, Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana.

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby

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