Report from Pacific Media Watch in Paris
France head rugby union coach Guy Novès has sprung a surprise by naming Fiji-born France Sevens wing Virimi Vakatawa in his Six Nations squad that includes eight uncapped players.
After two training camps the new France boss has settled on a squad of 31 to finalise his preparations ahead of their first game against Italy on February 6.
Two big names missing from the final list are fly-half François Trinh-Duc and flanker Bernard le Roux. Trinh-Duc is still recovering from a shinbone injury, has been provisionally left out of the squad and replaced by Toulouse’s Jean-Marc Doussain. Stade Français flank Antoine Burban replaces South African-born Le Roux, who is absent for personal reasons.
There is no place,as expected, for Mathieu Bastareaud.
Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado will captain the group.
Vakatawa has impressed for France Sevens in the two Seves World Series events so far this season in Dubai and Cape Town. Previously contracted by Racing 92, the 23-year-old qualified to play for France in 2013.
“We tried to involve young players on every line. We tried to build a team which will allow us to work in continuity, with an eye to the next four years,” explained Novés.
“We had a discussion with François (Trinh-Duc). He knew that his presence depended on his performances on the pitch. We know that Francois has resumed training very seriously,” he added.
Among online comments on the Planet Rugby website, Gareth Cotter described Vakatawa as being “unstoppable for the French Sevens team. Strong and skilful”.
France squad for the Six Nations:
Forwards: Eddy Ben Arous, Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (c), Camille Chat, Rabah Slimani, Uini Atonio, Yoann Maestri, Paul Jedrasiak, Sébastian Vahaamahina, Alexandre Flanquart, Wenceslas Lauret, Yacouba Camara, Kevin Gourdon, Louis Picamoles, Antoine Burban, Damien Chouly.
Backs: Sébastian Bézy, Morgan Parra, Maxime Machenaud, Jean-Marc Doussain, Jules Plisson, Alexandre Dumoulin, Wesley Fofana, Gaël Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Rémi Lamerat, Hugo Bonneval, Maxime Médard, Benjamin Fall, Scott Spedding, Virimi Vakatawa.