France look set to emerge as the pre-eminent force in Europe under Philippe Saint-Andre. While The Mole had an awful lot of time for Marc Lievremont as a person, there were always huge question-marks over his selection policy, how he dealt with his players and fellow coaches … in fact, there were question marks over pretty much every aspect of his management during his time at the helm.
Saint-Andre brings a more pragmatic approach than his predecessor, which is a little ironic: PSA was a remarkable, off-the-cuff three-quarter during the glory days of the late 80s and early 90s, while Lievremont was a far more nuts-and-bolts flanker.
He has started his regime by picking a very, very strong squad for a pre-Six Nations training camp:
- Props: Barcella [Biarritz]; Debaty [Clermont Auvergne]; Poux [Toulouse]; Mas [Perpignan]; Ducalcon [Castres];
- Hookers: Servat [Toulouse]; Szarzewski [Stade Francais];
- Second-rows: Pape [Stade Francais]; Millo-Chluski [Toulouse]; Pierre [Clermont Auvergne]; Maestri [Toulouse];
- Backrow: Dusautoir [Toulouse, captain]; Nyanga [Toulouse]; Picamoles [Toulouse]; Bonnaire [Clermont Auvergne]; Harinordoquy [Biarritz]; Ouedraogo [Montpellier]
- Scrum-halves: Parra [Clermont Auvergne]; Yachvilli [Biarritz];
- Out-halves: Trinh-Duc [Montpellier]; Beauxis [Toulouse];
- Centres: Mermoz [Perpignan]; Rougerie [Clermont Auvergne]; David [Toulouse]; Fofana [Clermont Auvergne];
- Wings: Clerc [Toulouse]; Malzieu [Clermont Auvergne]; Palisson [Toulon]
- Fullbacks: Poitrenaud [Toulouse]; Medard [Toulouse]
Saint-Andre isn’t messing around: his aim is obviously to get in quick with the experienced French team that were narrowly beaten in the final of RWC11 and get his hands on some silverware in his first season as coach.
Florian Fritz’s omission is a little odd, because he has played some sensational rugby in the Heineken Cup this season, most notably in Toulouse’s home tie against Harlequins, when he came off the bench and looked like the best centre in the competition, never mind the match! The Mole would have had him in ahead of his clubmate Yann David, but it’s a personal preference.
Tortured genius Lionel Beauxis is back in favour at out half, giving Saint-Andre the option of a mega-booted tactical kicker in the No10 jersey. Wesley Fofana, Clermont’s lighting-footed centre, is included in a French squad for the first time.
In the pack, Yannick Nyanga is back in favor, having been completely left out in the cold by Lievremont for four years. He is included at the expense of Rafael Lakafia, the young Biarritz powerhouse. Lionel Nallet has reached the end of the road at 35 years old, with 73 caps and an 11-year international career behind him. Not bad! He’s replaced in the squad by the other uncapped player, Yoann Maestri, the young Toulouse giant.