France v Tonga: Youthful Les Bleus looking to bounce back from New Zealand defeat
Last Updated: 15/11/13 3:55pm
Philipe Saint-Andre: Has made five changes from New Zealand defeat
France will aim to erase the memories of their humiliating defeat to Tonga at the 2011 World Cup when they host the Islanders in Le Havre on Saturday.
Having won just once in nine Tests this year, Les Bleus desperately need a morale-boost ahead of next week's clash with South Africa.
A tussle with a Tongan side that lost to Romania last week thus offers Philipe Saint-Andre's team a chance to kill two birds with one stone.
Saint-Andre has put the accent on youth after making five changes to the starting XV that pushed the All Blacks so close last week.
Exciting Perpignan finisher Sofiane Guitoune gets his first ever cap while talented teenage Toulouse centre Gael Fickou is also handed a start. The inclusion of 24-year-old Guitoune is particularly interesting as the Algerian-born wing had hardly played any top flight rugby until this season.
Previous spells with Agen and Albi in the second division, and a cruciate knee ligament injury in his first season with Perpignan, had limited his exposure to the Top 14 to just handful of matches.
But with six tries in his first six matches for the Catalans this season, he shot to the summit of the Top 14 try-scoring charts and to the attention of the French selectors.
At 19, Fickou has already sampled the heady atmosphere of international rugby as a replacement, having come on for five minutes in the 23-16 victory over Scotland last March, and played the last 13 minutes against the All Blacks.
He will line up alongside 24-year-old Wesley Fofana at centre, with Fofana making his 20th appearance.
Guitoune will be up against familiar faces as two of his Perpignan team-mates will start for Tonga.
Centre Sione Piukala and prop Alisona Taumalolo both ply their trade in Catalonia while number eight Opeti Fonua plays for Bayonne in the nearby Basque country.
Yet the other four of the seven French-based players are playing in the second division, perhaps demonstrating the difference in talent available to the two nations.
In fact, Tonga have few players playing top level rugby at big clubs. Sione Kalamafoni is at Sale Sharks but hooker Elvis Taione plays for Jersey in the English second division, fly-half Fangatapu Apikotoa plays in his homeland while captain and flanker Nili Latu is one of handful playing Japan, alongside centre Siale Piutau.
Although Tonga beat France in their last meeting, a 19-14 pool-stage success at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, the Pacific Islanders come into this match in dismal form having lost 19-18 to Romania last weekend.
Yet the tourists will be hoping to evoke some of the spirit of 2011 in their attempts to cause an upset.
France: Dulin, Guitoune, Fickou, Fofana, Medard, Tales, Parra, Chouly, Ouedraogo, Dusautoir (c), Maestri, Vahaamahina, Mas, Szarzewski, Forestier.
Replacements: Kayser, Debaty, Slimani, Pape, Le Roux, Pelissie, Michalak, Bastareaud.
Tonga: Lilo, Vainikolo, Piutau, Piukala, Helu, 'Apikotoa, Moa, Moa, Langilangi (c), Kalamafoni, Tu'ineau, Lokotui, Mailau, Taione, Taumalolo.
Replacements: Ma'asi, Vea, Puafisi, Ma'afu, T-Pole, Fisilau, Fosita, Halaifonua.
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