Saint-Andre bloods rookie flyhalf
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre caused a surprise on Wednesday as he handed flyhalf Camille Lopez his international debut against the All Blacks.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre caused a surprise on Wednesday as he handed flyhalf Camille Lopez his international debut for the first Test against world champions the All Blacks on Saturday in Auckland.
Saint-Andre, who is bidding to bounce back from a poor Six Nations which saw France land the unwanted last place for the first time since 1999, named 24-year-old Lopez ahead of the vastly more experienced Frederic Michalak.
However, Michalak has only just arrived in New Zealand after recently crowned European champions Toulon lost to Castres in last Saturday's French championship Final.
Lopez, though, has also caught the eye with an impressive season for Top 14 minnows Bordeaux-Begles.
Saint-Andre, who took over the reins from the unpredictable Marc Lievremont after the French lost 7-8 to the All Blacks in the 2011 World Cup final, named Lopez alongside eight-times capped scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, a player very much in favour last November but dropped during the Six Nations after unconvincing performances.
The more experienced Morgan Parra was unable to make the tour after suffering a thigh injury in his side Clermont's French championship semi-final defeat to Castres last month.
"Lopez has arrived here in good shape, he has worked a lot these last four to five weeks," said Saint-Andre, who is trying out his seventh different halfback partnership in 16 tests.
"He came here really enthusiastic, fitted in with the rest of the squad really well and acclimatised to the system. He has trained really well, we had no doubts about his starting the match."
Saint-Andre, a former France captain who made his name as coach in England with Gloucester before stints with Bourgoin, Sale and Toulon, also handed a debut to experienced 28-year-old wing Adrien Plante.
Plante, who is set to play for Racing-Metro next season, gets his chance after a consistent season with Perpignan and fills an area where the French are weak as star wing Vincent Clerc has missed the tour because of injury.
"This will remain engraved in my memory and I will be able to say that this was my first cap," said Plante, referring to the prestige of his debut coming against the world champions.
Apart from those three players, Saint-Andre stuck with largely the team that failed to inspire during the Six Nations, managing just a come-from-behind draw with Ireland and a narrow home win over Scotland.
Toulouse flanker Thierry Dusautoir captains the side for the 36th time while Plante's fellow wing Maxime Medard wins his 33rd cap almost four years to the day to when he scored the test winning try against the All Blacks in Dunedin.
The French play two further tests - Saint-Andre wanted a tough examination of his side's potential as he develops the team towards the ultimate goal of the 2015 World Cup - in Christchurch on June 15 and then New Plymouth on June 22.
France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Akexandre Flanquart, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Maxime Mermoz.
Date: Saturday, June 8
Venue: Eden Park, Aukland
Kick-off: 19.35 (09.35 French time; 07.35 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), tba (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)