Pragmatic Saint-Andre going back to basics
Is Philippe Saint-Andre the man? Can the new France coach make the best use of the undoubted talent at his disposal?
It may seem strange to be asking such questions about a team who were probably the better side in losing the World Cup final to New Zealand, but of just as much relevance is that they also lost to Tonga in the pool stages and fell to Italy for the first time in the Six Nations last year.
Saint-Andre may have been a dashing winger in his playing days but his coaching, as witnessed at Gloucester and Sale, as well as at Toulon, has always been tinged with pragmatism.
So he has made five changes to the World Cup final starting line-up for this afternoon's opener against Italy, with wing Julien Malzieu, centre Wesley Fofana, out-half Francois Trinh-Duc, prop Vincent Debaty and No 8 Louis Picamoles introduced.
Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, who played under Saint-Andre at Gloucester, knows the simple things come first with the new coach.
He said: "He places a premium on the basics: the set-piece and good discipline. We have only spent five or six days together so far, but you can sense a new approach."
Italy, of course, have a new coach too. And a Frenchman in Jacques Brunel. He is keen to shed Italy's reliance on a solid defence and a monstrous pack.
"Our mission is to give more confidence to the backs and a different balance to the team," he said.
But Brunel faces the perennial problem of a lack of quality at half-back. He has chosen 21-year-old Edoardo Gori at scrum-half, even though he is only third choice at his club, Treviso.
South African Tobias Botes covers the fly-half position occupied today by the moderate Australian-born Kris Burton.
Italy have only won twice in 32 matches between the sides (Grenoble in 1997 is added to last year's victory). Expect another loss today. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
France -- M Medard; V Clerc, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu; F Trinh-Duc, D Yachvili; V Debaty, W Servat, N Mas, P Pape, L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), J Bonnaire, L Picamoles. Reps: D Szarzewski, J-B Poux, Y Maestri, I Harinordoquy, M Parra, L Beauxis, M Mermoz.
ITALY -- A Masi; G Venditti, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L McLean; K Burton, E Gori; A Lo Cicero, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, C Van Zyl, Q Geldenhuys, A Zanni, R Barbieri, S Parisse (capt). Reps: T D'Apice, L Cittadini, M Bortolami, S Favaro, F Semenzato, T Botes, G Canale.
REF -- N Owens (Wales).
France v Italy,
Live, RTE2/BBC1, 2.30