MARCOUSSIS, France, Nov 7 (Reuters) - France are going for the kill in much-awaited tests against Australia and Argentina in November despite entering a transitional period as they look for new leaders ahead of the next World Cup.
“We have 15, 16 months of transition,” manager Philippe Saint Andre told reporters as Les Bleus prepare to take on the Wallabies at the Stade de France on Saturday.
The fixture will be followed by matches against Argentina in Lille on Nov. 17 and Samoa in Paris a week later.
Saint Andre is looking for the new generation of France leaders to take over from William Servat, Lionel Nallet, Sebastien Chabal, Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire, Aurelien Rougerie and Dimitri Yachvili.
“They had been identified as the bosses. These guys have either retired or they went to the garage for repair. So we’re in a transitional period, we know that. It makes for an even more exciting challenge,” Saint Andre said.
The match against Australia is the most eagerly anticipated in France.
“We haven’t beaten them since November 2005. It would be good to do it again,” the manager said.
Since that game, Australia have beaten France five times, including a 59-16 battering at the Stade de France two years ago.
“We will play at home against the number two team in the world. It is a huge challenge. We are fifth, we will do everything we can to win this match,” Saint Andre added.
France are fifth in the IRB rankings, meaning that if they do not improve before the 2015 World Cup they will be in band two and face either New Zealand, Australia, South Africa or England in the group stage.
Saint Andre named his 23-man squad to face Australia by narrowing down a 34-man preliminary group in unusual fashion, using a match between squad members to whittle down his choices.
“It was interesting, everyone played the game and we also had a referee, Romain Poite,” he explained.
“It was not a test match but on Saturday some of them have not slept that well and the day after they had a little bit less energy than the others.
“The goal was to dig very deep physically because we know that the Australians usually make their opponents blow after some 60 minutes.”
Saint Andre had called up several young guns for the training camp and said they were so “amazing” that he “had a headache” when he had to name his final squad.
“We eventually favoured experience for this game against Australia because having an 18 or 20-year-old start against Australia can be a poisonous gift,” said Saint Andre.
However, France will have a few youngsters or debutants on the team sheet after fullback Brice Dulin, scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, lock Jocelino Suta and prop Yannick Forestier were retained.
Usual captain Thierry Dusautoir was not picked because of a knee injury so Pascal Pape deputises as skipper while a question mark hangs over who be the France halfbacks against Australia.
“I have my pair in mind,” said Saint Andre without elaborating.
Scrumhalf Morgan Parra is expected to be fit although he took a knock last week, while Saint Andre has to choose between Frederic Michalak and Francois Trinh-Duc at flyhalf.
Should Parra be ruled out, Machenaud would start, probably alongside Trinh-Duc with utility back Michalak on the bench to cover both positions.
Saint Andre will name his team on Thursday. (Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Mark Meadows)
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