Saint-André explains fly-half choices

Date published: January 7 2014

France coach Philippe Saint-André insists that François Trinh-Duc is not being ignored, despite missing out on the Six Nations squad.

France coach Philippe Saint-André insists that fly-halves François Trinh-Duc and Frédéric Michalak are still in contention for selection for the national squad despite missing out on the Six Nations squad.

Saint-André named a 30-man squad on Monday including just two fly-halves, prefering uncapped Stade Français pivot Jules Plisson as the back up for Rémi Talès, ahead of the experienced Trinh-Duc and Michalak.

Stade Français saw their surging Top 14 form rewarded when a trio of uncapped players were called up as Saint-André also included storming blindside flanker Antoine Burban and full-back Hugo Bonneval, while Castres full-back Geoffrey Palis got his first call up.

22-year-old Plisson has been at the play-making heart of Stade Français' surge to second place 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 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 Lièvremont's preferred starting number 10, Trinh-Duc is not a favourite with Saint-André, having only played a total of 85 minutes in 2013 in five matches in a variety of positions.

“No one has been banished. There were talks over Jules Plisson and François again this morning,” admitted Saint-André.

“François 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.”

Turning to Michalak, Saint-André said: “Frederic was the starter in last year's Six Nations and he played exceptionally in the November 2012 Tests.

“But he got injured and is currently lacking game time. He needs more time.”

Burban's defensive workrate 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 number eight 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 Pélissié.

Among the centres, Toulon's Mathieu Bastareaud takes the place of Florian Fritz, unavailable through injuries sustained in a motorbike accident.

Saint-André will be hoping 2014 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 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.