MARCOUSSIS – France coach Jacques Brunel confirmed predictions of two surprise selections by naming Arthur Iturria at flanker and Clermont teammate Damian Penaud on the left wing for their Test against South Africa in Paris on Saturday.
Iturria, 24, has played at lock in all three of his previous France games but has been pulled back a notch by Brunel following a recent switch of position at his Top 14 club.
Iturria's last cap for France came against Scotland at the Six Nations last February, when he was one of several partygoers from the France team sidelined from the squad.
The 22-year-old Penaud will make his first France appearance since playing against Japan in November 2017. In his previous five appearances he played at centre but, having played five of his seven Top 14 matches so far this season on the wing, will follow suit against South Africa.
His inclusion comes in spite of some fine performances at centre this season from Stade Francais' Gael Fickou, who has often played on the wing for France.
Maxime Medard is preferred to Benjamin Fall at full back with Geoffrey Doumayrou and Mathieu Bastareaud in the centres.
Penaud will operate just behind club teammate Camille Lopez. Now injury-free he returns, to fly-half, for the first time since the 2017 Six Nations.
Lopez will be without Clermont teammate Morgan Parra, who withdrew from the squad becuase of injury. Instead, Bordeaux-Begles' Baptiste Serin is at scrum-half where he is preferred to Antoine Dupont, who only returned from a serious knee injury in October.
“(Serin) is having a great start to the season, he's played a lot of quality games,” said Brunel. “Dupont came back to the fold late following his injury but has showed he's coming back to form in recent matches.”
Brunel meanwhile said he couldn't resist trying Iturria at flanker after discussing the change with Clermont sporting director Franck Azema.
“I spoke to Franck, he had the idea to try him on the back row. He's in great form. In the second row he suffered a lot of injuries, including a lot of concussions,” added Brunel. “This position suits him better. He adds quality with the duels in the air, brings his game intelligence, technique and movement.”
Iturria lines up alongside No 8 Louis Picamoles, who is also claiming his first cap since being involved in the shenanigans in Edinburgh.
In the forwards, captain Guilhem Guirado is among four players making his return from injury or suspension that sidelined them from France's tour of New Zealand in June: Wenceslas Lauret (flanker), Sebastien Vahaamahina (lock) and Jefferson Poirot (loosehead prop).
The France team to play South Africa is:
Maxime Medard; Teddy Thomas, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Damian Penaud; Camille Lopez, Baptiste Serin; Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles, Wenceslas Lauret; Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina; Cedate Gomes Sa, Guilhem Guirado (cap), Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Danny Priso, Rabah Slimani, Paul Gabrillagues, Mathieu Babillot, Antoine Dupont, Anthony Belleau, Gael Fickou.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)