Talking Points

(Rugby News Service) Friday 23 September 2011
Talking Points
Scrum half Morgan Parra's selection at fly half has several famous precedents

AUCKLAND, 24 Sept. - When it comes to selection, the French do things a little diferently. This is the team, remember, who selected number 8 Sébastien Chabal, the face of Rugby World Cup 2007, in the second row for the two matches he started last time around.

In the late 1980s some of the great French ball players, such as Franck Mesnel, switched from fly half to centre with equal faculty, while Didier Camberabero was capped at full back, wing and fly half.

So suggestions that the France XV to play New Zealand is a second string because a scrum half is playing at No.10 seem a little out of proportion.

Coach Marc Lièvremont has suggested his regular fly half, Francois Trinh-Duc, needs a selectorial rocket to rediscover his best form. The reserve No.10, David Skrela, is injured and out of the tournament, leaving the coach without too many options for the playmaker role.

Morgan Parra’s switch to fly half and Dimitri Yachvili’s elevation to the No.9 shirt is hardly the earth-shattering decision some might have us believe.

Both roles

Frederic Michalak has filled both roles for France; Brian Smith, now England assistant coach, won caps for Australia at scrum half and at fly half for Ireland. Last month, Piri Weepu, ostensibly a scrum half, played at fly half for the All Blacks with such aplomb that many feel he should be used as cover for Dan Carter rather than the more conventional understudy Colin Slade.

And Skrela’s replacement, the uncapped Jean-Marc Doussain, can also play ... you guessed it, scrum half.

Versatility in the No.9 and No.10 jerseys is clearly something Lièvremont has been looking at: Parra played the final 19 minutes at fly half against Japan and the last 10 minutes there against Canada. On each occasion he was in tandem with Yachvili at scrum half.

Criticism of the French selection certainly hasn’t emanated from the New Zealand camp.

All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen said: “When we picked Richard Kahui to play on the wing, everyone thought we were crazy. It hasn't turned out too badly. You've got to let them (France) do what they think is right for their team and they've done that. Who are we to say what's their best combination for this Test match?"

Fly half aside, the perception that the French have simply rounded up 15 blokes to be cannon fodder for the All Blacks doesn’t ring true, either. The selected team averages 42 caps a man, which is some feat given Lièvremont has used 82 different players in his 40 matches since taking the reins of the national side.

Crucial performances

To win a Rugby World Cup, a country needs to get the most out of its squad, such as in 2003 when England’s Mike Catt - in the squad as a back-up fly half and centre - delivered crucial performances against Wales and France.

Notwithstanding that the run-on XV to face the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday evening features Vincent Clerc, Thierry Dusautoir and Lionel Nallet, how’s this for a high-calibre replacements bench: William Servat, Fabien Barcella, Julien Pierre, Imanol Harinordoquy, Trinh-Duc, Fabrice Estebanez and Cédric Heymans.

Safe to say only Lièvremont knows what he is plotting. As he told the media: "I will reassure the New Zealand fans: we have never intended to squander the game.”

RNS ig/sw/mr