Bastareaud back as France pick four uncapped players

Nicolas KIENAST
Mathieu Bastareaud's last France appearance was in October 2015 in the 62-13 World Cup quarter-final thrashing at the hands of New Zealand

Mathieu Bastareaud returned to the starting XV after a two-year absence as France coach Guy Noves picked four uncapped players on Thursday to face New Zealand in Paris on Saturday.

Fly-half Anthony Belleau, 21, will make his debut alongside scrum-half Antoine Dupont, 20 and with just three caps and none of those from the start, in one of the youngest ever half-back partnerships for Les Bleus.

"The half-backs are two young players. Given their performances for their clubs and Antoine's (for France) last season, when he was with us for the Six Nations and the tour (to South Africa in June), we decided we wanted to see what they could do at this level," said Noves.

Their selection is a surprise not least given that Belleau's Toulon team-mate Francois Trinh-Duc, a 30-year-old with 60 caps, is on the bench.

Belleau, however, has started seven of Toulon's nine Top 14 matches so far this season, having been the star of the club's semi-final victory over La Rochelle in May.

Dupont has been picked for his first start ahead of Bordeaux-Begles' Baptiste Serin, relegated to the bench after starting seven of France's eight matches this year.

However, one advantage is that Dupont and Belleau have already played together at under-20 level.

Back row Judicael Cancoriet, 21, and second row Paul Gabrillagues, 24, will also make their debuts, alongside Bastareaud's centre partner Geoffrey Doumayrou, 28.

The 29-year-old Bastareaud's last France appearance was in October 2015 in the humiliating 62-13 World Cup quarter-final thrashing at the hands of New Zealand.

"Looking at our opponents' potential, we've brought a bit of maturity to the midfield with Mathieu alongside Geoffrey, who's been showing his form and speed for some time," said Noves.

Doumayrou's selection is another surprise given Damian Penaud's form in South Africa in June, but the Clermont centre will start on the bench.

There are a couple more surprises decisions. Teddy Thomas comes back into the side on the right wing for the first time since February 2016, picked for a sixth cap ahead of Hugo Bonneval and Gabriel Lacroix, and in the absence of injured Fijian-born pair Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa.

Nans Ducuing will earn just his third cap at full-back as South African-born Scott Spedding doesn't even make the bench.

Noves's decision to start Belleau and Dupont in the half-backs slots left rivals Trinh-Duc and Serin both crestfallen.

"I'm disappointed not to be named in the starting line-up. We all want to be involved on Saturday," said Trinh-Duc who suffered a broken arm playing in last year's November internationals.

"But I have digested the news and now I can concentrate on my return because there will be a time when I will be back."

Serin also pledged to support Belleau and Dupont in what could be a trial by fire on Saturday.

"I am really disappointed. I am a competitor deep down in my soul. But this won't prevent me and Francois from helping 'Antho' and 'Toto' as much as we can."

Team (15-1)

Nans Ducuing; Teddy Thomas, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Mathieu Bastareaud, Yoann Huget; Anthony Belleau, Antoine Dupont; Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Judicael Cancoriet; Paul Gabrillagues, Sebastien Vahaamahina; Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Jefferson Poirot

Replacements: Clement Maynadier, Raphael Chaume, Daniel Kotze, Paul Jedrasiak, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Francois Trinh-Duc, Damian Penaud