France call up uncapped Stade trio, but no Michalak
Stade Francais saw their surging Top 14 form rewarded when a trio of uncapped players were on Monday called up for France’s Six Nations squad, notably fly half Jules Plisson ahead of the experienced Francois Trinh-Duc and Frederic Michalak.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre also handed call-ups to storming blindside flanker Antoine Burban and fullback Hugo Bonneval, while Castres fullback Geoffrey Palis is included in a national squad for the first time.
Plisson, 22, has been at the playmaking heart of Stade Francais’ surge to second in the highly competitive Top 14, even up against the skills and kicking ability of teammate Morne Steyn, the current Springbok fly half.
In the absence of the injured Camille Lopez, Plisson was preferred by Saint-Andre to Michalak, who has played only once for Toulon since the end of November, and Montpellier’s Trinh-Duc, who can count himself unlucky to miss out.
Although previous coach Marc Lievremont’s preferred starting No 10, Trinh-Duc is not a favourite with Saint-Andre, having played only a total of 85 minutes last year in five matches in a variety of positions.
“There were talks over Jules Plisson and Francois,” Saint-Andre admitted.
“Francois is making a massive effort and he’s almost there, but Jules Plisson is currently putting in some high-quality performances.
“We’ve picked the most in-form and confident players of the moment.”
Burban’s defensive work rate and scavenging skills have seen him establish himself as arguably the leading flanker in the French league.
The 26-year-old has benefited from the absence through injury of Racing-Metro rival Wenceslas Lauret for his inclusion in the 30-man squad and he and Toulouse No 8 Louis Picamoles are the sole additions up front from the forwards who disputed the November internationals.
Bonneval has thrived off the dominance granted the Stade backs by their rock-solid set-piece play and has proved himself steady under the high ball, thus earning a second call-up to a France squad.
Racing-Metro scrum half Maxime Machenaud, back from injury, is named alongside Toulouse’s Jean-Marc Doussain, in place of Morgan Parra and Jonathan Pelissie.
Among the centres, Toulon’s Mathieu Bastareaud takes the place of Florian Fritz, unavailable through injuries sustained in a motorbike accident.
The team are set to wind up their preparations for the tournament, won last year by Wales, at a training camp beginning on January 19 in Canet-en-Rousillon.
France open their campaign on February 1 when they host England at the Stade de France.
Saint-Andre will be hoping this year makes for better reading than last year, when France lost eight of their 11 tests, drawing another and winning just two.
It was the national team’s worst record since 1980, but concerted efforts will now be made to get back on track in time for the next year Rugby World Cup in England.
Forwards: Thomas Domingo (Clermont), Yannick Forestier (Castres), Benjamin Kayser (Clermont), Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing-Metro), Nicolas Mas (Montpellier), Rabah Slimani (Stade Francais), Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Francais), Yoann Maestri (Toulouse), Pascal Pape (Stade Francais), Sebastien Vahaamahina (Perpignan), Antoine Burban (Stade Francais), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), Bernard Le Roux (Racing-Metro), Yannick Nyanga (Toulouse), Damien Chouly (Clermont), Louis Picamoles (Toulouse).
Backs: Jean-Marc Doussain (Toulouse), Maxime Machenaud (Racing-Metro), Jules Plisson (Stade Francais), Remi Tales (Castres), Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon), Gael Fickou (Toulouse), Wesley Fofana (Clermont), Maxime Mermoz (Toulon), Sofiane Guitoune (Perpignan), Yoann Huget (Toulouse), Maxime Medard (Toulouse), Geoffrey Palis (Castres), Hugo Bonneval (Stade Francais), Brice Dulin (Castres).