Schmidt eye on French fly-half flip-flop
Joe Schmidt will surely be watching closely tomorrow evening as seemingly shambolic World Cup opponents France entertain England, having selected their fourth out-half in as many games.
As one of 12 changes made by coach Philippe Saint Andre after last week's narrow loss in Twickenham, the mercurial Freddie Michalak will start at No 10, following continued experimentation with Camille Lopez, Jules Plisson and Francois Trinh-Duc.
Trinh-Duc was at the helm in London and, despite performing reasonably well, is the latest to fall victim to Saint Andre's apparent inability to place faith in a fly-half over a concentrated run of games.
Toulon playmaker Michalak will be partnered at half-back by clubmate Sebastien Tillous-Borde, who has been drafted in place of Morgan Parra.
With Ireland due to face the French in Cardiff on October 11, in what could well prove to be Group D decider, head coach Schmidt will be eager to see if such apparent confusion in Saint Andre's selection policy can be exploited.
The Kiwi has a 100pc record over the French since taking the reins of the national side in 2013, with successive victories in two Six Nations winning campaigns.
Indeed, Saint Andre has named a side that largely resembles the one that lost to Ireland in this year's Championship, as he seeks to fulfil his promise of giving game-time to every player in his 34-man training squad before making his final World Cup selection.
Two familiar faces returning to the side are first-choice centres Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud.
Aside from the resurgent Louis Picamoles, the pack is identical to one that played at the Aviva Stadium last March.
In fact, Picamoles may be of most concern to Schmidt and, having slimmed down considerably during the pre-season, the Toulouse No 8 appeared back to his destructive best last week.
Pascal Pape captains the side from the second-row, where he is joined by Yohan Maestri, while Eddy Ben Arous, Guilhem Guirado and Rabah Slimani make up an all new front-row.
France - S Spedding; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, W Fofana, N Nakaitaci; F Michalak, S Tillous-Borde; E Ben Arous, G Guirado, R Slimani, P Pape (capt), Y Maestri, D Chouly, B le Roux, L Picamoles. Reps: B Kayser, V Debaty, U Atonio, A Flanquart, Y Nyanga, R Kockott, R Tales, G Fickou.