Vakatawa and Nakaitaci start for France vs Australia
PARIS (AP) — France coach Guy Noves named Fiji-born wingers Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci in his starting team for Saturday's test match against an Australian team that will be deprived of many star players.
The powerfully built Vakatawa and Nakaitaci are distant cousins and have known each other since childhood in the Pacific archipelago. Vakatawa, a convert from rugby sevens, scored a hat trick of tries last weekend in the 52-8 demolition of Samoa, while Nakaitaci has been enjoying a great start to the season, scoring nine tries in 10 matches with Top 14 club Clermont.
Vakatawa will start in place of Yoann Huget, who has been left out of the squad.
"They're players who are great one-on-one," Noves said about his wingers. "Virimi has proved his strength in previous matches. As for Noa, we thought we should give him the opportunity to show his skills with the France team."
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika largely reshuffled his team, making seven changes and giving Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Sefa Naivalu and Luke Morahan their first starts.
"I just think it's the right time to let a guy prepare as a starter. Sometimes on the finishers, it's hard to know what you're going to get because you don't know when you're going to go on, it's hard to prepare," Cheika said.
The test match against France is not part of Australia's attempt of a grand slam of the home unions. As a result, Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Bernard Foley, Stephen Moore and Dane Haylett-Petty, the only Wallabies to have started every test this year, will be given some rest before upcoming matches against Ireland and England.
Folau, Hooper and Haylett-Petty have not even been named on the bench.
Flanker David Pocock will captain the team in place of Moore and center Kyle Godwin will make his test debut in the absence of Reece Hodge
Noves made five changes and gave a first starting nod at flyhalf to the versatile Jean-Marc Doussain, who replaces the injured Francois Trinh-Duc. Doussain will be paired with Maxime Machenaud at half-back at the Stade de France. Trinh-Duc fractured his right arm against Samoa.
Doussain was preferred to Camille Lopez after coming on as a substitute against Samoa.
Noves praised Doussain's "dedication" at a news conference and said "we thought it would be logical to keep our faith in him."
Doussain, who can also play at scrumhalf, will start for France for the first time since a loss against Wales in the Six Nations two years ago.
Noves was forced to make changes to his front row after Loann Goujon and Jefferson Poirot picked up injuries that left them out of contention. Their injuries made room for Charles Ollivon and loose head prop Cyril Baille while lock Sebastien Vahaamahina replaced Julien Le Devedec, who has been left on the bench.
"We have two injured players at loose head, it was therefore a case of one man's loss being another man's gain," Noves said about Baille. "Let's see if he can settle for good in the France team. If he wants to stay with us, he will need to be up to the task."
France is back in form after an average Six Nations and has won five of its last six home matches, while Australia defeated Wales and Scotland in their opening two tests. The Wallabies will take on Ireland and England after the Stade de France game.
France: Scott Spedding, Noa Nakaitaci, Remi Lamerat, Wesley Fofana, Virimi Vakatawa, Jean-Marc Doussain, Maxime Machenaud; Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Charles Ollivon, Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Uni Atonio, Guilhem Guirado, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Camille Chat, Xavier Chiocci, Rabah Slimani, Julien Le Devedec, Damien Chouly, Baptiste Serin, Camille Lopez, Gael Fickou.
Australia: Luke Morahan, Sefa Naivalu, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Henry Speight, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Sean McMahon, David Pocock, Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, James Slipper. Reserves : Stephen Moore, Scott Sio, Tom Robertson, Will Skelton, Dean Mumm, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Taqele Naiyaravoro.