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Premiership Rugby

Castaignède starts at centre for France

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

The inclusion of the 20-year-old Michalak was not a surprise after Laporte's decision to discard Agen's Francois Gelez, and the versatile Under-21 and 'A' team star comes into the side to win his seventh cap in a youthful half-back pairing with 22-year-old Biarritz scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili. 

The backline reshuffle also sees left wing Vincent Clerc dropped, the Toulouse flyer consigned to the bench to make way for centre Xavier Garbajosa's switch out wide. 

The gap left by Garbajosa at centre is filled by Saracens star Castaignède, who will be hoping to add a dose of creativity to a midfield which lacked spark in their 15-12 defeat to Grand Slam hopefuls Ireland last time out. 

Coach Laporte slammed his troops that day for their below-par showing, but the majority of that side have survived with their places intact, blindside Serge Betsen perhaps benefiting from the injury-enforced withdrawal of Bourgoin's Sébastien Chabal to earn a reprieve after heavy criticism. 

A dose of gastro-enteritis has had its affect on the squad's preparation this week, but the four principal victims – Imanol Harinordoquy, Olivier Milloud, Gérald Merceron and Sylvain Marconnet – are all included in the matchday 22. 

One question still remaining is just who will kick the goals for Les Bleus, with both scrum-half Yachvili and fly-half Michalak able to do the job – Yachvili being the main kicker for French champions Biarritz. 

With captain Fabien Galthié however likely to return at scrum-half before the World Cup after a shoulder injury, the management could well take the opportunity to blood Michalak as a Test kicker in the hope that he can fill the long-term role going into the World Cup, especially given the kicking crisis afflicting replacement fly-half Merceron at present.

France: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Aurelien Rougerie, 13 Thomas Castaignede, 12 Damien Traille, 11 Xavier Garbajosa, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Olivier Magne, 6 Serge Betsen, 5 Olivier Brouzet, 4 Fabien Pelous (captain), 3 Jean-Jacques Crenca, 2 Raphael Ibanez, 1 Sylvain Marconnet.Replacements: 16 Jean-Baptiste Rue, 17 Olivier Milloud, 18 David Auradou, 19 Patrick Tabacco, 20 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 21 Gerald Merceron, 22 Vincent Clerc.


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