Source: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The French Starting Line-up revealed

  • +1

France v England Pau, Sunday 2 February

The French have announced their starting XV early, which shows a certain confidence:

15 Trémoulière
14 Boujard
13 Boudaud
12 Vernier
11 Banet
10 Bourdon
9 Sansus
1 Arricastre
2 Sochat
3 Deshayes
4 Forlani
5 Fall
6 Ferer
7 Hermet
8 Ménager R

16 Thomas
17 Traore
18 Joyeux
19 N’Diaye
20 Annery
21 Peyronnet
22 Kondé
23 Ménager M

In the backs Morgane Peyronnet pays for her misdirected kick at the eleventh hour in Exeter. Pauline Bourdon is preferred to her at No 10, which allows the dangerous Laure Sansus to continue at scrum-half. Cyrille Banet starts at No. 11 instead of the younger Ménager. Camille Boudaud teams up with Gabrielle Vernier in the centre.

Up front Annaëlle Deshayes switches across to tight-head to let Lise Arricastre in at loose-head. Agathe Sochat lines up between them rather than Caroline Thomas. But that presents a formidable front row.

One big surprise to English eyes is the name Safi N’Diaye appearing on the bench. The experienced Audrey Forlani reappears in her place in the second row alongside the highly promising Madoussou Fall. Annick Hayraud puts this choice down simply to competition. As elsewhere in the squad, the management had to do a lot of head-scratching to decide the optimum selections from a strong group. She admits she had half an eye on the likely opponents they would face, but assures her public that she has 30-35 players all quite capable of taking up the challenge.

Most of the big guns are there, the elder Ménager, Jessy Trémoulière, Caroline Boujard and the still young skipper, Gaëlle Hermet; but not Lénaïg Corson, nor any of the Sevens stars, who have obviously been firmly segregated off>.

The French problem will be to remain serene under the pressure of the string of defeats they have suffered at English hands. If they play to their strengths, they are quite capable of seeing them off, with a much wider margin than the cliff-hanging 18-17 of two years ago. But those memories will hang heavy over them and their supporters. If they play anything like as well as they did against New Zealand and the USA in California last summer, they could well upset England’s cherished dreams.

The Red Roses have the encouragement of a hard-working victory in Clermont last November. They had to rely on the pack for their two tries and Emily Scarratt for the remaining 10 points. No doubt they would be ready to accept a similar outcome this time round.

But for their future welfare, it’s vital that the backs turn possession into points against a quality side. They managed it supremely well in their most recent match against Italy. Now they must crack a much tougher nut.

There will be the usual vibrant crowd in attendance. French supporters must make sure their enthusiasm doesn’t weigh their own side down. Psychologically the game is there for England to take.