MARCOUSSIS, France (Reuters) - Former captain Thierry Dusautoir will make his return as France face a tricky trip to Italy in their Six Nations opener on Sunday, manager Philippe Saint-Andre said on Friday.
Flanker Dusautoir was named in the starting line up for the first time since last year’s tournament after missing the June and November tests.
The 2011 IRB world player of the year captained the team from 2009 until he was rested for the tour of Argentina last June and then missed the November matches with a knee injury.
Pascal Pape successfully filled in during Dusautoir’s absence and has retained the captain’s armband for the Italy match.
Maxime Machenaud’s fine performances in France’s three November wins over Australia, Argentina and Samoa earned him another start at scrumhalf, alongside Frederic Michalak.
“The backbone of the team is the one that started the November tests,” Saint-Andre told reporters.
Dusautoir was not guaranteed a place in the starting line-up when he was called up in the initial 33-man squad but his work ethic has helped him secured a spot.
“When we drew the 33-man list, Thierry Dusautoir was not playing with Toulouse so we had to wait until his last two European Cup and Top 14 games (to assess his form),” Saint-Andre added.
“We wanted to see him during three days. We saw during his preparation that he had worked a lot while he was injured. In Italy, we will need to defend a lot, so we will need his experience and his ferocity.”
France are the Six Nations favourites along with England but Saint-Andre says the fancied tag would not lead to any complacency.
“France were the favourites against Italy two years ago,” he said, referring to the shock defeat in Rome.
“It was a tsunami. We will have to be focused on this game now. We have won four matches in a row, let’s make it five.”
Saint-Andre insisted that France’s first target was just to get off to a good start in the Six Nations.
“We are going to divide it into two blocks: win in Italy and then the home game against Wales, then we’ll think about the rest afterwards,” he said.
15-Yoann Huget, 14-Wesley Fofana, 13-Florian Fritz, 12-Maxime Mermoz, 11-Benjamin Fall, 10-Frederic Michalak, 9-Maxime Machenaud, 8-Louis Picamoles, 7-Thierry Dusautoir, 6-Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5-Yoann Maestri, 4-Pascal Pape (captain), 3-Nicolas Mas, 2-Dimitri Szarzewski, 1-Yannick Forestier.
Replacements: 16-Benjamin Kayser, 17-Vincent Debaty, 18-Luc Ducalcon, 19-Romain Taofifenua, 20-Damien Chouly, 21-Morgan Parra, 22-François Trinh-Duc, 23-Mathieu Bastareaud.
Reporting by Jean-Paul Couret; Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by John O’Brien
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