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France look to defy critics against mighty Welsh

Latest update : 2009-02-27

France host title-holders Wales at the Stade de France in the first ever Six Nations evening match. After two disappointing matches, Les Bleus will try to avoid another upset with a surprising line-up.

AFP - France coach Marc Lievremont's honeymoon period has not lasted long and defeat against Six Nations champions Wales here on Friday could signal the start of divorce proceedings.
For the mounting band of critics his selection for the match against the Grand Slam holders - who are on course for a repeat after beating Scotland and England - has given them further ammunition after he opted to go without a specialist goalkicker.
Instead, the former France flanker has chosen his ninth different halfback pairing since he took over in January 2008 with 20-year-old scrum-half Morgan Parra and 25-year-old Benoit Baby at fly-half despite him being more at ease in the centre.
Lievremont, who has remained with a more or less settled squad this campaign compared to the changes he made in last year's edition, did have the option of starting with a specialist fly-half in Francois Trinh-Duc, who was called up after Lionel Beauxis was ruled out through injury.
An increasingly tetchy Lievremont moved to defend his selection saying that Trinh-Duc - who was also preferred in the squad to Toulouse fly-half David Skrela - lacked time training and that Baby and Parra had gelled well together in practice.
"As far as we are concerned, this is the best team available to us," said Lievremont, who replaced Baby at centre with the uncapped 20-year-old Mathieu Bastareaud and dropped the erratic Clement Poitrenaud at fullback moving Maxime Medard there from wing.
"If we win, everyone will say we got it right and if we lose everyone will say we are idiots and don't know what we are doing," he added.
Parra is ready for the challenge, tough enough at playing his first Six Nations match this campaign but added to that he has been given the kicking responsibilities.
"I have already experienced a major match against England last year," said Parra.
"However in that match the pressure was different. I will try to keep a clear head.
"I like posts that bring me responsibility. Whether it is to be the kicker or to play scrum-half, I take it and accept the pressure that comes with it."
Lievremont's inexperienced halfback partnership face a real baptism of fire against their Wales counterparts in the shape of scrum-half Mike Phillips and fly-half Stephen Jones, who have masterminded their team's opening two wins.
Such is the strength in depth of the Welsh these days that they can afford to keep glamour boy centre Gavin Henson on the bench, but also have the luxury of restoring IRB player of the year Shane Williams on the wing after missing the England match through injury.
Wales coach Warren Gatland, though, is aware of the pitfalls that could await his team at the Stade de France.
"France are one of the top sides in the championship and they are always going to be tough opposition, especially at home, and this is a must-win game for them if they are to keep their title hopes alive," said the New Zealander.
"We also know how tough it will be for them with a short six-day turnaround for many of their players who have featured in domestic rugby last weekend.
"We had a similar experience ourselves in between the Scotland and England games and found it hard going, so that is something we must try to take advantage of."
Lievremont admits that it is a tough ask to pull off what would be a shock victory.
"If we are logical we know that such victories are rare," he said.

Date created : 2009-02-27