TOKYO (Reuters) - Romain Ntamack will start at flyhalf for France in Saturday’s World Cup opener against Argentina, as coach Jacques Brunel signalled his intent to attack early and let an experienced bench close the game out.
With a defeat against the Pumas likely to leave France needing to beat England to avoid missing out on the quarter-finals for the first time, Brunel chose the 20-year-old playmaker ahead of Clermont Auvergne number 10 Camille Lopez.
With La Rochelle’s Gregory Alldritt, 22, preferred to Louis Picamoles at number eight and Ntamack’s 22-year-old Toulouse team mate Antoine Dupont now a key man at scrumhalf, France will go out with a young, mobile spine to their team.
“Using Romain at the beginning of a game is a good solution. We have experience in the bench so we can bring something else on later in the game,” Brunel told a news conference.
“We think that this match is going to be tight and the second half will be crucial, especially for this one the experience in the second half will be helpful.”
As well as Picamoles and Lopez, France will be able to call on scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud late on if things are as tight as Brunel expects while his Racing 92 teammate, Camille Chat, has become an impact replacement for club and country at hooker.
One experienced man Brunel must do without is Wesley Fofana, whose injury in the final warm up win over Italy was worse than initially thought, handing Fijian-born bulldozer Virimi Vakatawa a chance to impress at centre.
While Vakatawa has played more rugby at 13 than 12 for Racing this season, it was the selection of Ntamack at flyhalf that Brunel was forced to defend having, like his predecessor, chopped and changed at that position throughout his tenure.
Ntamack, whose father Emile was part of the France side that reaches the World Cup final in 1999, was favoured more at inside centre by Toulouse last season and also lost his place in the starting team in the run to their Top 14 title.
“I keep saying that Ntamack is a flyhalf, he has played that position several times with us and he has showed a really good level with us in this position,” Brunel said.
“Most of his young career he has spent it as a flyhalf ... There is no doubt about his quality at number 10. He’s not afraid to kick goals and he showed during the preparation that he is up for it,” he added.
France: 15-Maxime Medard, 14-Damian Penaud, 13-Gael Fickou, 12-Virimi Vakatawa, 11-Yoann Huget, 10-Romain Ntamack, 9-Antoine Dupont, 8-Gregory Alldritt, 7-Charles Ollivon, 6-Wenceslas Lauret, 5-Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4-Arthur Iturria, 3-Rabah Slimani, 2-Guilhem Guirado (capt), 1-Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16-Camille Chat, 17-Cyril Baille, 18-Demba Bamba, 19-Bernard Le Roux, 20-Louis Picamoles, 21-Maxime Machenaud, 22-Camille Lopez, 23-Thomas Ramos.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Ian Ransom