Six Nations: France coach sticks with side he picked for Paris

FRANCE coach Philippe Saint-André has produced no surprises in his team selection for Sunday’s match, but has spent the past fortnight trying to improve his players’ fitness for the test he expects at Murrayfield.

Their last game against Ireland was postponed due to a frozen pitch, so Saint-André, who took over from Marc Lièvremont after the World Cup, has stuck with the side he hoped to see in action then. That means a debut for Yoann Maestri, the 6ft 7in Toulouse lock alongside Pascal Pape in a pack beefed up from the 30-12 opening day win in Italy. Veteran Toulouse prop Jean-Baptiste Poux starts at loosehead in place of Vincent Debaty, Maestri replaces Lionel Nallet and Imanol Harinordoquy returns to the back row with Julien Bonnaire dropping to the bench.

The try scorers from that opening game in Rome – Vincent Clerc, Aurélien Rougerie, Julien Malzieu and Wesley Fofana – all remain, with the only change in the back line at scrum-half where Morgan Parra is in for the injured Dimitri Yachvili.

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Asked why he had made no changes, Saint-André smiled and replied: “Nobody had a bad match. We had good preparation and so I wanted to stay with this team. I want to see this team.”

Asked about Scotland, he said he viewed them as one of the top sides at keeping the ball.

“Scotland are one of the best nations in the world at retaining possession,” he said. “They can keep the ball for more than four minutes at times – we could not keep it for two minutes against Italy. And, to compare, in the Stade Francais-Toulon game at the weekend the ball was in play for 26 minutes, whereas in the Wales-Scotland game the ball was in play for 46 minutes. So this will be a big test for our strategy and our fitness, and our players in the second half will be important.”

The coach spoke of players suffering cramp in the first game in Italy and so they have targeted fitness work in the past fortnight. He also has nine players who played for their clubs last weekend, who he has had to ease back into training this week.

But, he added: “To spend a month with the players has advantages because we have been able to work on the details and I know the group and their characters better now, which is positive.

“Now, we need to be able to play four consecutive matches of high intensity, improving each time and keep a mental and physical freshness. That, in Scotland, will be paramount.”