Autumn Internationals: France v Fiji preview
Last Updated: 07/11/14 2:56pm
Fiji have never beaten France in eight attempts and Philippe Saint-Andre knows he can ill-afford to see that record broken in Marseille on Saturday.
Les Bleus endured a disastrous June tour to Australia, where they were whitewashed by the Wallabies, a 6-0 defeat in the second Test proving their best outcome.
Since then Serge Blanco has joined the national set-up in a supervisory role, although it's still not clear exactly how much influence he has on the team itself against a Fiji side that impressed in June and is packed with Top 14 talent.
In any case, the Australian debacle has led to major personnel changes with just eight survivors from the final Test in Sydney.
There are three debutants in the starting line-up, with Scott Spedding, who only joined the squad on Saturday for the injured Brice Dulin, parachuted straight into run-on side at full-back and Saint-Andre says he has no concerns about starting the South African-born player.
"I expect him to be bright and counter-attack as he has since he joined us," he said.
"He's fitted straight into the team, he gets involved, talks, communicates. He's a very good counter-attacker, has a good boot and a lot of charisma. Now he needs to play his part and help the team."
Spedding will be joined on debut by Racing Metro pair Teddy Thomas and Alexandre Dumoulin, who start on the wing and in the centres respectively, while Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Camille Lopez team up in the half-backs.
Up front France are much more conservative, with experienced figures such as skipper Thierry Dusautoir, Pascal Papé and Nicolas Mas all starting against a Fiji side which will inevitably be stronger in the backline than up front.
For Fiji, there will be a lot of pressure on half-backs Niko Matawalu and Jonetani Ralulu to feed a backline that features most notably Alipate Ratini and Metuisela Talebula, arguably the two biggest threats in the Top 14.
The back row of Masi Matadigo, Akapusi Qera and Dominiko Waqaniburotu is also very experienced and could cause damage, but the game may come down to whether the Fijian front five can come close to parity with their hosts.
In June Fiji beat Italy and hammered Tonga, as well as losing narrowly to Samoa, so this is far from an easy opener for the French.
Fiji, who have been drawn in the ‘Pool of Death’ alongside hosts England, Australia, Wales and Uruguay for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will see this clash with France as an ideal opportunity to lay down a strong marker.
France: 15 Scott Spedding; 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Alexandre Dumoulin, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Teddy Thomas; 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde; 1 Alexandre Menini, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 3 Nicolas Mas; 4 Pascal Pape, 5 Yoann Maestri; 6 Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 7 Beranrd le Roux, 8 Damien Chouly
Replacements from: Xavier Chiocci, Benjamin Kayser, Uini Atonio, Alexandre Flanquart, Sébastien Vahaamahina, Charles Ollivon, Rory Kockott, Rémi Talès, Maxime Mermoz, Mathieu Bastareaud
Fiji: 15 Metuisela Talebula; 14 Watisoni Votu, 13 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Alipate Ratini; 10 Jonetani Ralulu, 9 Nikola Matawalu; 1 Campese Ma’afu, 2 Sunia Koto, 3 Manasa Saulo; 4 Leone Nakarawa, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa; 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 7 Akapusi Qera (capt), 8 Masi Matadigo
Replacements: 16 Viliame Veikoso, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Isei Colati, 19 Nemia Soqeta, 20 Malakai Ravulo, 21 Henry Seniloli, 22 Nemani Nadolo, 23 Timoci Nagusa
Watch France v Fiji live on the Sky Sports 2 Red Button from 4.45pm