France have made six changes for their final match of a disappointing Six Nations against Italy but coach Jacques Brunel reasserted his faith Thursday in captain Guilhem Guirado to lead the team into the World Cup.
Brunel backed the controversial Guirado, despite reports in sports daily L’Equipe on Wednesday that the coach had wanted to strip the hooker of the captaincy after the 44-8 humiliation against England last month.
Announcing his team for Saturday’s Italy clash in Rome, the veteran coach said there was no question of abandoning prop Guirado, who has been widely criticised over Franc’s poor Six Nations showing.
“I would like to speak about Guilhem Guirado and my relationship with him – we have known each other for 12 years, we respect and admire each other and we are fairly open in discussing everything,” said Brunel.
He said the discussion after the England match had been wider than just the captaincy, insisting it had been about the team’s playing style and performance.
“Guilhem’s position as captain is secure and he will be there until the end of the World Cup,” which runs from September 20 to November 2 in Japan, he said.
The six changes for the Italy game come after last week’s 26-14 loss to Ireland in a Six Nations that brought just one win, against Scotland.
Two changes for the last game have been enforced by injury, with back rower Wenceslas Lauret and prop Jefferson Poirot, both injured against Ireland, making way for Gregory Alldritt, 21, and Etienne Falgoux, 26, respectively, who are in the starting lineup for the first time.
The other changes give added experience in the backline with the recall of Maxime Medard, 32, capped 55 times, at fullback and 31-year-old Wesley Fofana at centre. They take over from Thomas Ramos and Gael Fickou.
In the pack, Paul Willemse replaces Sebastien Vahaamahina in the second row while Yacouba Camara returns to the back row in place of Arthur Iturria.
French team to play Italy (15-1)
Maxime Medard; Damien Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Yiann Huget; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Louis Picamoles, Yacouba Camara, Greogory Alldritt; Paul Willemse, Felix Lambey; Demba Bamba, Guilhem Guirado (cap), Etienne Falgoux
Remplacements: Camille Chat, Dany Priso, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Gabrillagues, Arthur Iturria, Baptiste Serin, Camille Lopez, Thomas Ramos