France's Sevens star Virimi Vakatawa to make first Test appearance against Italy
Published 04/02/2016 | 13:53
France's Sevens sensation Virimi Vakatawa will make his Test debut in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations opener against Italy in Paris.
The Fiji-born wing will chase Olympic glory with France's Sevens outfit in Rio this summer, but has now been drafted into Guy Noves' first Test XV as head coach of Les Bleus.
Vakatawa spent two years with Racing 92 before opting to join the Sevens circuit in 2013, where he has since made his name as a powerful and pacy try-scorer.
Triple European champions Toulon are understood to be weighing up whether to add the 23-year-old to their ranks for next term, but new France boss Noves has already made his move.
"He has shown great qualities in Sevens rugby," said Noves of a player who has not played any 15-man rugby for almost three years.
"I don't see any problem with taking him."
Saturday's Italy clash will be the first international sport held at Paris' Stade de France since the terrorist attacks of November 13.
French authorities have reportedly redoubled their security presence for the first weekend of the Six Nations.
Noves has named four debutants in his side to face Italy, centre Jonathan Danty, scrum-half Sebastien Bezy and lock Paul Jedrasiak joining Vakatawa as the new blood.
Front-rowers Camille Chat and Jefferson Poirot are primed for their first Test forays from the bench, while replacement flanker Yacouba Camara is also eyeing his debut.
France have failed to win the Six Nations since 2010, finishing bottom once and fourth three times since, and were knocked out of the World Cup at the pool stages.
Former Toulouse boss Noves has replaced the beleaguered Philippe Saint-Andre, promising to restore France's famed flair-filled approach.
"We have had to change everything," said Noves.
"The message for the players is: don't just think of taking pleasure on the field, think about giving pleasure too.
"If they express their potential they will make the French public proud."
France team to face Italy in Paris on Saturday: (15-9) M Medard (Toulouse); H Bonneval (Stade Francais), G Fickou (Toulouse), J Danty (Stade Francais), V Vakatawa (France Rugby Federation); J Plisson (Stade Francais), S Bezy (Toulouse); (1-8) E Ben Arous (Racing 92), G Guirado (Toulon, capt), R Slimani (Stade Francais), P Jedrasiak (Clermont), Y Maestri (Toulouse), W Lauret (Racing 92), D Chouly (Clermont), L Picamoles (Toulouse).
Replacements: (16-23) C Chat (Racing 92), U Atonio (La Rochelle), J Poirot (Bordeaux), A Flanquart (Stade Francais), Y Camara (Toulouse), M Machenaud (Racing 92), J Doussain (Toulouse), M Mermoz (Toulon).