Bastareaud makes France Six Nations comeback for Italy clash

Nicolas KIENAST
France have recalled Mathieu Bastareaud to their lineup for the Six Nations match against Italy on Friday

Mathieu Bastareaud has been recalled to France's Six Nations team to face Italy, named by coach Jacques Brunel on Wednesday, following a three-week ban for using a homophobic slur.

Ahead of Friday's encounter in Marseille, Brunel has made five changes to the team that lost 32-26 to Scotland 10 days ago, prolonging France's losing streak to eight matches.

Given that eight players were handed a one-game international ban after a late-night drinking session in Edinburgh following the Scotland defeat, Bastareaud's return was widely expected among a raft of enforced changes.

He was part of Brunel's initial pre-Six Nations squad announced in January before being handed the ban for insulting Treviso's Sebastian Negri in a European Champions Cup match for Toulon.

There was a slight worry he might not be fit for the game after sitting out training on Tuesday due to a tight thigh muscle.

"There's no tear, nothing at all. We just gave him a rest yesterday afternoon," said Brunel from France's training camp in Aix-en-Provence.

"Today (Wednesday) he will have some treatment and then train in the morning -- it should be fine."

Toulon's Bastareaud replaces Remi Lamerat of Clermont at outside centre as four of the five changes are in the backs.

Benjamin Fall comes off the bench and into the starting XV in place of Six Nations top try-scorer Teddy Thomas at right wing while on the opposite flank Remy Grosso earns only his second cap in replacing Virimi Vakatawa, one of two changes not induced by the Edinburgh suspensions.

The other sees Hugo Bonneval start at full-back instead of Geoffrey Palis while the only forward change is at lock where Paul Gabrillagues takes the place of Arthur Iturria.

- 'Two criteria' -

"The line-up was based on two criteria. One: keeping a spine that at least has some points of reference," said Brunel.

"Two: freshness. We couldn't bring in the players who played the entire match on Sunday (for their clubs)."

Although he was on the bench in France's first two matches of this tournament, this will be 28-year-old Fall's first France start in five years to the day.

He will have big boots to fill as Thomas has been France's star performer in the tournament, running in three brilliant individual tries.

The other two changes in the back three are based on form, with Palis a disappointment at full-back after only making his debut against Ireland three weeks ago and Fiji-born Vakatawa failing to show the talent that made him a France sevens star.

Bonneval's inclusion is perhaps a surprise after his club coach Fabien Galthie said following Toulon's 43-5 win over Stade Francais on Saturday that he was "lacking sharpness".

"That's true," said Brunel. "But in training he hasn't had any particular difficulties. We believe he'll be able to cope with this type of match."

There were also six changes to the eight replacements.

Already just two games into the Six Nations, this match has the feel of a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.

France have not chalked up a win for 11 months since a controversial last-gasp success over Wales in the final game of last year's tournament.

Italy have won only one of their last 14 Tests, and that was at home to Fiji in November.

Their last Six Nations victory was three years ago -- when Brunel was their coach -- and if they're defeated on Friday it will set a new worst losing streak in the competition for the Azzurri of 15 matches.

France team (15-1):

Hugo Bonneval; Benjamin Fall, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Remy Grosso; Lionel Beauxis, Maxime Machenaud; Marco Tauleigne, Yacouba Camara, Wenceslas Lauret, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Paul Gabrillagues, Rabah Slimani, Guilhelm Guirado (capt), Jefferson Poirot.

Replacements: Adrien Pelisse, Dany Priso, Cedate Gomes Sa, Romain Taofifenua, Kelian Galletier, Baptiste Couilloud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Gael Fickou.