PARIS — France made eight changes to the side that narrowly lost to South Africa to face Japan in their final autumn rugby test on Saturday.
Under pressure to deliver a good result following three consecutive losses against the All Blacks and the Springboks, coach Guy Noves changed his halves and selected new centers on Thursday for the match at the new U Arena near Paris.
Antoine Dupont and Anthony Belleau have made way for flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc and scrumhalf Baptiste Serin, and starts have been given in the centers to Damian Penaud and Henry Chavancy.
The other players coming in are fullback Scott Spedding, lock Romain Taofifenua, flanker Sekou Macalou, and winger Gabriel Lacroix, who scored two tries against New Zealand last week in a match that did not hold test status.
“I wanted to give him a start against Japan because of his good season so far,” Noves said. “Over the past four weeks, I’ve discovered a serious and hard-working lad.”
Captain and hooker Guilhem Guirado, who was doubtful due to a family bereavement, will play.
Noves’ decision to replace Dupont and Belleau was difficult to understand after the pair’s convincing performances.
“We wanted to see a maximum of players in these four matches to assess their level,” Noves said. “Imagine that we had won against the Springboks, it would not have changed the fact that I wanted to see all these players.”
France, which has won its three previous matches against Japan, will be playing for the first time at U Arena, the venue with an artificial turf that will soon be the home stadium for Top 14 club Racing 92.
A defeat against Japan, which beat Tonga 39-6 last weekend in Toulouse, could cast more shadow over Noves’ future. Appointed two years ago amid high expectations, the former Toulouse coach has been unable to reproduce the successes he earned at club level.
“Let’s try to play a match and to respect a team that was capable of beating South Africa (at the World Cup),” he said. “Let’s win and we’ll see what happens.”
France: Scott Spedding, Gabriel Lacroix, Damian Penaud, Henry Chavancy, Teddy Thomas, Francois Trinh-Duc, Baptiste Serin, Sekou Macalou, Louis Picamoles, Judicael Cancoriet, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Romain Taofifenua, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Jefferson Poirot. Reserves: Camille Chat, Daniel Kotze, Sebastien Taofifenua, Paul Jedrasiak, Fabien Sanconnie, Antoine Dupont, Mathieu Bastareaud, Hugo Bonneval.