France's coach, Marc Lièvremont, having used this year's Six Nations as a testbed for emerging young players, has largely abandoned the policy for Saturday's tournament decider against Wales in Cardiff. With France needing to win by a clear 20 points to take the championship, Lièvremont's team will be predominantly seasoned campaigners with only three youngsters included.
At scrum-half, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde returns after an ankle injury, while David Skrela is recalled at fly-half, with a third place-kicker in Dimitri Yachvili on the bench. The hard-tackling flanker Thierry Dusautoir is also back, while among the backs Damien Traille is partnered at centre with Yannick Jauzion, as so often under Bernard Laporte, with Vincent Clerc reinstated on the wing.
"We had decided before the game against Italy to look again at certain players who had been left out, such as Dusautoir, Clerc or Elissalde," said Lièvremont. "Seeing what they have produced since the start of the tournament, it was only reasonable to bring them back for this last game. And as far as the team goes as a whole, we simply wished to put together the best team we could to win."
There are still decisions that will raise eyebrows, notably the selection of Fulgence Ouedraogo at No8 ahead of Elvis Vermeulen, who has been in fine form for his club Clermont-Auvergne. The 21-year-old from Montpellier got the nod, however, because his speed around the pitch is what Lièvremont believes he needs to counter the dynamic play the Welsh will produce on Saturday.
Vermeulen, said Lièvremont, is likely to appear as an impact replacement late in the game. Another surprise was the absence of Cédric Heymans, whose partnership with Clerc on the wings was so influential against Scotland and Ireland. Instead, France will look to the pace of the young Clermont full-back Anthony Floch and his team-mate Julien Malzieu to complement Clerc.
France, said Lièvremont, will start the game with the same plan as in their earlier games: to retain the ball and dictate the pace, even more important given the speed of the Welsh backs. "We always want to have the initiative, even if we haven't always managed it perfectly. We will have to defend well to win the ball, but letting them run at us in a stadium where the atmosphere will be white-hot will be a sure way to defeat."
Italy's coach, Nick Mallett, has made no changes to his side for Saturday's wooden-spoon decider against Scotland in Rome. The flanker Alessandro Zanni will once again deputise for Mauro Bergamasco, who is unavailable through suspension.
France (v Wales): Floch (Clermont-Auvergne); Clerc, Jauzion (both Toulouse), Traille (Biarritz), Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne); Skrela (Stade Français), Elissalde (Toulouse); Barcella (Auch), Szarzewski (Stade Francais), Mas (Perpignan), Nallet (Castres, capt), Thion (Biarritz), Dusautoir (Toulouse), Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Bonnaire (Clermont-Auvergne). Replacements:Servat, Poux (both Toulouse), Mela (Albi), Vermeulen (Clermont-Auvergne), Yachvili (Biarritz), Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Heymans (Toulouse).
Italy: (v Scotland): Marcato (Treviso), Robertson (Viadana), Canale (Clermont-Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français), Galon (Overmach Parma); Masi (Biarritz), Picone (Treviso); Lo Cicero (Racing Métro Paris), Ghiraldini (Calvisano), Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), Del Fava (Ulster), Bortolami (Gloucester), Sole (Viadana), Zanni (Calvisano), Parisse (Stade Français). Replacements:Ongaro (Saracens), Nieto (Gloucester), Perugini (Toulouse), Erasmus (Viadana), Travagli (Overmach Parma), Patrizio (Padova), Sgarbi (Treviso).