sport

Selection gamble for Saint-Andre

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has vowed to stick by his under-fire players after selecting an almost unchanged team against Wales.

Saint-Andre has made just two changes from the starting XV that has come in for criticism following their shock 23-18 defeat against Italy in Rome last weekend.

Defeat against the reigning Grand Slam winners this weekend would almost certainly spell the end of France's Six Nations ambitions, but Saint-Andre is sticking by his players.

The former Sale boss' only tactical change has been to bring in Mathieu Bastareaud - for the first time in three years - in place of Florian Fritz at centre.

Thierry Dusautoir takes over as skipper with Pascal Pape's back injury prompting a call-up for Jocelino Suta.

Half-backs Frederic Michalak and Maxime Machenaud have shouldered the majority of blame for a disjointed performance against Italy but have been retained in what Saint-Andre has admitted is a "second chance" for a number of his players.

"You say you don't change a winning team. Well, we say we don't change a losing team. The players need to bounce back," Saint-Andre told reporters.

"We keep this group so we can find collective solutions, not individual solutions.

"After that defeat we will see the true nature of this group. We will see what it is. I look forward to Saturday.

"I was angered by the (Italy) game. This will be a second chance for everyone."

Saint-Andre denied the focus of the blame was being pinned on Fritz after France's sloppy performance against the Azzurri was undermined by 16 handling errors by the visitors.

Instead he believes the recall of Bastareaud will provide a better understanding in the back-line as he joins Toulon team-mates Michalak and Maxime Mermoz in the starting XV.

"The 16 balls that we lost - Florian did not lose them all," he said.

"The change is strategic because it allows us a connection between 10-12-13 with players who are all at the same club.

"It is better for the understanding of the team and they will be better able to defend against the Welsh.

"Florian will be back for sure at some point and will give this team punch."

Machenaud admitted he had feared for his position after last week's loss.

The 24-year-old impressed during the November internationals and is now determined to repay Saint-Andre's faith.

"Whether you win or lose after you play only an average game you are always afraid of losing your place," he said.

"Yes, sure (it is a second chance). Philippe Saint-Andre is not changing the group which is proof of the confidence he is giving us.

"Now we will have to be worthy of this second chance."

France team: Y Huget (Toulouse); W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), M Mermoz (Toulon), M Bastareaud (Toulon), B Fall (Racing Metro); F Michalak (Toulon), M Machenaud (Racing Metro); Y Forestier (Castres), D Szarzewski (Racing Metro), N Mas (Perpignan), J Suta (Toulon), Y Maestri (Toulouse), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), L Picamoles (Toulouse).

Replacements: B Kayser (Clermont Auvergne), V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), L Ducalon (Castres), R Taofifenua (Perpignan), D Chouly (Clermont Auvergne), M Parra (Clermont Auvergne), F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), F Fritz (Toulouse).