Noah dropped his original pick Gilles Simon in favour of French No 9 Jeremy Chardy, ranked 38 places lower at world No 68 and thrust into his first Davis Cup tie since 2011.
Chardy will play the second singles match at the Kindarena today against Dan Evans, the British No 1 for the tie, after 17th-ranked Lucas Pouille has faced Kyle Edmund.
Tomorrow’s doubles will pit Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau against Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot, before the reverse singles on Sunday.
With Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet injured and new father Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also missing, France, the strongest nation in men’s tennis, will rely on two players with just six Davis Cup rubbers between them.
Explaining his decision to bring in Chardy, Noah said: “He was playing well. Coming to play on clay takes some time to adapt and he did it very well. I think the clay suits his game and from what I saw in the practice sessions he was really good.
“Gilles has been playing Davis Cup for a long time, sometimes successfully, sometimes it was more painful. As for Jeremy, yes he’s new but he doesn’t have anything to lose. I can see the way they play, the way they behave, the body language and the results when they play sets, I could really sense that he wanted it, he was getting ready to play, he was playing well.
“It’s not easy to go and tell Gilles that he’s not playing, that’s for sure. Some people might say it’s a good idea, some might say it’s not but at the end I have to make the decision.”
GB captain Leon Smith is relying on the same side that defeated Canada in round one in the absence of Andy Murray, who is recovering from an elbow injury.
France remain the favourites but Edmund and Evans can boast 24 Davis Cup rubbers between them and have both played winning roles in ties.
Smith said: “That can definitely help because it is a very different experience. There’s a lot of expectation on the French team, they’re favourites for this tie, they’ll have the home fans. They’ve talked a lot about wanting success, Yannick’s talked a lot about wanting success in this competition so there’s a lot riding on it for them, as there is for us obviously.”
Smith’s main challenge in the build-up has been convincing clay-phobic Evans that he can play well on the surface.
Tim Henman, who had a similar game to Evans and reached the French Open semi-finals late in his career, has been offering his advice and Evans has spoken positively about the challenge. But Smith clearly knows the chances of an Evans victory today are very slim at best.
“In time I think he can play relatively well on the surface but at the start, certainly the first match [on clay] in a couple of years, it’s going to take him time to put all the pieces together,” said the Scot.
Evans and Edmund have mirrored each other’s success over the last year, climbing into the top 50 and claiming notable scalps.
Noah said: “They are good players, up and coming, so we haven’t seen everything yet. They can show better things. We respect them. We believe we are going to have a very close tie.
“All that I keep hearing is that we are favourites, and that because Andy Murray’s not here we’re going to win. I keep trying to tell people: ‘No, it’s going to be very difficult’.
“Evans and Edmund are good players. We’ve been doing a lot of video work. I can’t tell you what I saw, in terms of [their] strengths and weaknesses, but it’s going to be a very close contest.”