PARIS (Reuters) - France placed an emphasis on defence as winger Damian Penaud was selected ahead of Gael Fickou in a surprise choice for Saturday's test against South Africa with Arthur Iturria and Maxime Medard also brought in to beef up the team.
Coach Jacques Brunel explained he was looking for consistency in making the choice of Penaud ahead of the mercurial Fickou.
“We expect a lot of kicking from the Springboks to the flanks and I think Damian has a little more to offer in this area,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“Fickou is still in the team as a substitute and has made a really good start to the season. He is physically strong but we prefer not to change the centre partnership of (Mathieu) Bastareaud and (Geoffrey) Doumayrou.”
Brunel said Iturria would add a more physical presence to the loose forward trio while Medard’s club form earned him selected ahead of Benjamin Fall at fullback.
“We have worked on our defence, which was good in the last Six Nations but suffered on tour (in June) against the All Blacks. We have put an lot of emphasis on fixing this,” Brunel added.
“It's hard to know what to expect from the Springboks. These past seasons, they’ve had a different game. We know that the physical intensity will be there, but I'm not sure there have a rhythm, especially if there is rainy weather,"
Saturday’s test is the first of three this month for the French, who also play Argentina in Lille and are back at the Stade de France against Fiji.
15-Maxime Medard, 14-Teddy Thomas, 13-Mathieu Bastareaud, 12-Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11-Damian Penaud, 10-Camille Lopez, 9-Baptiste Serin, 8-Louis Picamoles, 7-Arthur Iturria, 6-Wenceslas Lauret, 5-Yoan Maestri, 4-Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3-Cedate Gomes Sa, 2-Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1-Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16-Camille Chat, 17-Dany Priso, 18-Rabah Slimani, 19-Paul Gabrillagues, 20-Mathieu Babillot, 21-Antoine Dupont, 22-Anthony Belleau, 23-Gael Fickou.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ed Osmond)