France rugby team chase first win in Australia for 24 years
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie at a press conference in Sydney on May 22, 2014 - by Peter Parks
Australia coach Ewen McKenzie tossed aside reputations and went for form in choosing a new halves combination of Bernard Foley and Nic White and installing Stephen Moore as his new captain.
McKenzie, a former Queensland coach, dumped Queensland Reds captain James Horwill to the replacements bench and could find no room for 55-Test Reds scrum-half Will Genia in his 23-man match day squad.
His French counterpart Phillipe Saint-Andre made some surprises of his own, leaving out regular skipper Thierry Dusautoir and naming fly-half Frederic Michalak for his first Test in a year and despite not having played rugby in a month.
Saint-Andre preferred to let Dusautoir recover from surgery for torn biceps rather than risk him in the first of three internationals against the Australians.
Veteran prop Nicolas Mas will captain the French in Brisbane.
The loss of 2011 IRB player of the year Dusautoir means Les Bleus are without half a dozen of their top names with Saint-Andre resting four players involved in last weekend's Top 14 final between Toulon and Castres.
He has also put Remi Lamerat and Brice Dulin on the bench.
Saint-Andre was on the wing when France last won Down Under, beating the Wallabies 28-19 in the dead rubber of a three-Test series in Sydney in 1990.
"We know it will be a tough contest but we don't have any pressure. The pressure is on the Australia side, we just enjoy the moment on Saturday," he said.
Saint-Andre fully expects 31-year-old Michalak to grab his chance again playing for hs country despite his lack of match preparation.
"(Michalak) just carried the water in the Top 14 final so he's quite fresh to be with us," he said.
"He's very excited to play. He's happy to start with the number 10 on his back and he wants to show he's a good footballer."
With the World Cup 15 months away, it will be also a chance for McKenzie to test his new halves combination of Foley and White.
Incumbent Quade Cooper is out with a serious shoulder injury and McKenzie preferred Foley to his NSW Waratahs teammate Kurtley Beale, who was named as a replacement.
- New look for Wallabies -
Foley and White will be playing together for the first time and have just 14 caps between them, compared to the more experienced option of Genia and Beale.
"Everyone's got to come in and learn a little bit and adapt," McKenzie said.
"The good players do that and I'm very pleased with what I've seen in a short space of time ... obviously you need the pressure cooker of a Test match and we'll find out.
"Fundamentally we've focused on guys we think are in form and have been playing consistently well."
It is a new-look Wallaby combination with Brumbies lock Sam Carter to make his Test debut at Horwill's expense and Wycliff Palu beating Ben McCalman and Scott Higginbotham to replace Europe-bound Ben Mowen at number eight.
Moore's selection as the new Wallabies' captain is also a significant one made by McKenzie.
The Brumbies hooker has a hard-nosed attitude and while he's been in leadership groups at the Queensland Reds, Brumbies and Wallabies, this will be the first time the 31-year-old has skippered a professional team.
"We're currently third in the world so if we want to get to number one we need to change things a little bit across a number of different areas," Moore said.
"Ultimately we have to do things better and that's what I'll be concerned with."