Fofana, Trinh-Duc in France team to face Italy
Updated: January 31, 2012, 07:21
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PARIS(AP) Center Wesley Fofana will make his debut for France alongside recalled flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc in Saturday's Six Nations opener against Italy.
Fofana will pair with veteran clubmate Aurelien Rougerie in midfield, and Trinh-Duc is partnered by scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili, with versatile halfback Morgan Parra on the bench in the first team named by new coach Philippe Saint-Andre on Tuesday.
Ten players who started the World Cup final are in Saturday's team.
The 23-year-old Fofana, who has never represented France at any level, made his Clermont debut three years ago and was French champion the following year.
"I want Fofana to bring his enthusiasm, his strength on the man. We know his power, his speed,'' Saint-Andre said. "It's his first test, but you have to start one day. I don't want to put him under any pressure, just that he plays to his strengths and enjoys himself. I want him to show at international level what he's been showing for his club.''
Fofana has formed an impressive partnership with Rougerie at Clermont, and Saint-Andre is keen to see them repeat that with France, adding that he sees the 31-year-old, 71-cap Rougerie as his general among the backs.
"Aurelien Rougerie has taken on a big dimension in this team,'' Saint-Andre said. "He's a bit like the daddy, he communicates a lot and is a very powerful player.''
Parra, a scrumhalf by trade, started last year's World Cup final against New Zealand as a makeshift No. 10.
But Saint-Andre preferred the more orthodox Trinh-Duc, who did well going on for the injured Parra in the final which France lost 8-7 last October.
"Dimitri and Trinh-Duc finished the final together, and so we thought it would be good to start with that pairing, safe in the knowledge that we've got quality on the bench (with Parra and flyhalf Lionel Beauxis),'' Saint-Andre said. "Trinh-Duc has a lot of experience for France and is doing well for Montpellier this season. In terms of what we've been doing (in training) with regards to our system, he's done very well.''
Imanol Harinordoquy has lost out to burly Louis Picamoles at No. 8. Picamoles has been in fine form for Toulouse, while Harinordoquy has struggled with a niggling knee injury since returning from the World Cup and joins Parra and center Maxime Mermoz - another World Cup finalist - in the reserves.
Saint-Andre surprisingly selected Vincent Debaty at prop ahead of veteran Jean-Baptiste Poux, but the majority of the pack is the same as the one which rocked the All Blacks at Eden Park in a final that France came very close to winning.
The 30-year-old Debaty's only test cap was away to Romania six years ago, and Saint-Andre accepts the spotlight will be on him, especially with a player of Poux's experience on the bench.
"We know the quality Italy has. We know (Martin) Castrogiovanni is one of the best props in the world but we have total confidence in Vincent Debaty,'' Saint-Andre said. "He has an opportunity and it's up to him to take it. We know he is very strong with ball in hand.''
Julien Malzieu returns on the wing two years after his last test away to Argentina. He takes the place of another finalist, Alexis Palisson, who did not make Saint-Andre's squad.
France lost 22-21 to Italy in last year's Six Nations.
"We have an enormous amount of respect for Italy, and we won't be taking them lightly,'' Saint-Andre said. "They are strong and don't give points away easily. A lot of their players play in France and their coach (Jacques Brunel) is French, so they know us well.
"We respect the Italians enormously, but there's a bit of revenge in mind for those who were on the field last year.''
France almost went out of the World Cup in a chaotic pool stage which saw it lose to the All Blacks and Tonga, but gelled in the knockout stages, inspiring fans back home with a television audience estimated at 18 million for the final.
"We don't have the right to fail,'' Saint-Andre said. "We will try and do everything we can to keep our concentration and win this match in front of our fans at Stade de France ... combat, enthusiasm, the desire to win our battles.''
France: Maxime Medard, Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Wesley Fofana, Julien Malzieu, Francois Trinh-Duc, Dimitri Yachvili; Louis Picamoles, Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Lionel Nallet, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Vincent Debaty. Reserves: Dimitri Szarzewski, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Yoan Maestri, Imanol Harinordoquy, Morgan Parra, Lionel Beauxis, Maxime Mermoz.