Bonneval to make France debut against Italy

GREGORY BLACHIER
Last updated 03:22 08/02/2014

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Stade Francais back Hugo Bonneval will make his international debut when France host Italy in the Six Nations on Monday (NZ time) as coach Philippe Saint-Andre continues his policy of blooding fresh talent in the northern hemisphere tournament.

Bonneval's inclusion is one of three changes Saint-Andre has made to the starting lineup that defeated England 26-24 in a thrilling opening game in Paris last weekend.

The 23-year-old, who usually occupies the fullback position for his club, will win his first cap on the left wing at the expense of Maxime Medard, who was omitted from the 23-man squad.

"It's a logical choice following his performances with Stade Francais and from what he has shown us for three weeks in training," Saint-Andre told reporters on Friday.

"He has the pace, the capacity to win one-on-one encounters and we wanted to see him with us. I watched him in a Heineken Cup game between Stade Francais and London Irish... he was outstanding."

Saint-Andre said he had not dropped Medard for a disappointing display against England but needed to gauge his options out wide as Sofiane Guitoune, who made his debut in the November tests, was injured.

"We need to be able to choose from three high-quality wingers. During the November tests, Maxime played two games, as did Yoann Huget and Sofiane Guitoune," he said.

Another change to the side will see hooker Dimitri Szarzewski start ahead of Benjamin Kayser, who drops to the bench. Kayser was solid in the scrum against England but struggled with his lineout throws.

COLLECTIVE BALANCE

The final change to the starting lineup puts lock Yoann Maestri alongside captain Pascal Pape in the second row in place of Alexandre Flanquart.

Like Medard and replacement flanker Antoine Burban, Flanquart drops out of the 23-man squad completely as Saint-Andre opted to call up Sebastien Vahaamahina, a lock who can also play as a blindside flanker.

"Once you have five forwards and three backs on the bench, Vahaamahina gets the nod ahead of Flanquart because he is more powerful and versatile. It's also a question of collective balance," Saint-Andre said.

Flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc, who has 48 caps to his name but has not played for France since last year's Six Nations victory over Scotland, also makes it onto the bench against Italy, who opened with a 23-15 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.

Trinh-Duc will act as a replacement for the 22-year-old Jules Plisson, who played all 80 minutes last week on his France debut.

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"Jules Plisson showed some good things... but we put three backs on the bench because we saw that it had been tough for Jules to play the whole match," Saint-Andre added.

FRANCE: Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Hugo Bonneval, Jules Plisson, Jean-Marc Doussain, Louis Picamoles, Bernard Leroux, Yannick Nyanga, Yoann Maestri Pascal Pape (captain), Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Yannick Forestier, Rabah Slimani, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Damien Chouly, Maxime Machenaud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Gael Fickou

- Reuters

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