Six Nations

SA-born Willemse starts for France

Paul Willemse (Getty Images)
Paul Willemse (Getty Images)

Paris - South African-born Paul Willemse will make his debut for France in Friday's Six Nations opener against Wales in Paris.

Willemse, a 2012 junior world champion with the Junior Springboks, arrived on French soil in 2014 as a 21-year-old, and has the three years of residency required by World Rugby regulations.

He received his French passport in November and will become the 11th South African-born player to wear France's blue jersey.

Also making his debut against the Welsh and facing a baptism of fire in midfield will be Romain Ntamack, the 19-year-old son of emblematic ex-France back Emile.

Ntamack is preferred to vice-captain Mathieu Bastareaud, whose latest dramatic fall from favour means he is not even named among the replacements.

"It's not a sanction, he's an important player in the squad. He's definitely not been thrown out," coach Jacques Brunel maintained, when asked about the absence of Bastareaud, who was promoted to captain in last season's Six Nations after Guilhem Guirado was injured.

"It was certainly a tricky call. Mathieu Bastareaud has shown many mental qualities. You must not forget that when matches are tough and when the team's in trouble, he's been one of the best."

Ntamack has been at the heart of a buoyant Toulouse side in the Top 14 this season and his selection hints at a change of game plan by Brunel, who last season oversaw three wins and eight defeats, including a first-ever loss to Fiji.

"Romain Ntamack is a strong pick," Brunel admitted. "Of course, he's a lad whose qualities we all know.

"He's shown since the start of the season that he's capable of adapting to the levels he's played at."

Ntamack will be partnered in the centres by Wesley Fofana, who missed the November Tests through injury, with Gael Fickou and Geoffrey Doumayrou providing cover from the bench.

Maxime Medard was named at fullback, with Damian Penaud and Yoann Huget on the wings.

Morgan Parra teams up with Clermont team-mate Camille Lopez at halfback for just the second time at international level and four years after their previous game together, in the 2015 Six Nations.

"We've wanted to play this combination for a year but we've been unable to because of injuries," Brunel said.

Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles and Wenceslas Lauret form a combative back row.

But flanker Yacouba Camara, France's stand-out player in last season's Six Nations, has been out injured and is not in the match-day 23,  so La Rochelle's uncapped Gregory Alldritt, capable of playing centre or on the flank, is on the bench.

Willemse is partnered by Sebastien Vahaamahina in a massive lock pairing, while New Zealand-born Uini Atonio makes his return at prop. Jefferson Poirot is at loosehead with skipper Guirado at hooker.

Baptiste Serin was preferred to in-form Toulouse scrumhalf Antoine Dupont on the bench for his superior kicking ability, Brunel said.

"From the moment we made the decision to go with one flyhalf (Lopez), we needed a completely trustworthy kicker," the ex-Italy coach said.

"That comes with Serin, who is currently the best kicker in the Top 14."

Should Lopez be injured, Ntamack would take over at flyhalf, Brunel added.

Teams:

France

15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Wesley Fofana, 12 Romain Ntamack, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Antonio, 2 Guilhelm Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.

Substitutes: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Felix Lambey, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Gael Fickou, 23 Geoffrey Doumayrou

Wales

15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans

Substitutes: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin

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