PARIS (AFP) – South African-born Paul Willemse will make his debut for France in tomorrow’s Six Nations opener against Wales in Paris.
Willemse, a 2012 junior world champion with the Baby Boks, arrived on French soil in 2014 as a 21-year-old, so fulfilling the three years of residency required by World Rugby regulations.
He received his French passport last November and will become the 11th South African-born player to wear France’s blue jersey.
Also making his debut against the Welsh and facing a baptism of fire in midfield will be Romain Ntamack, the 19-year-old son of emblematic former France back Emile.
Ntamack is preferred to vice-captain Mathieu Bastareaud, whose dramatic fall from favour means he is not even named among the replacements.
“It’s not a sanction, he’s an important player in the squad. He’s definitely not been thrown out,” coach Jacques Brunel maintained, when asked about Bastareaud’s absence.
Ntamack has been at the heart of a buoyant Toulouse side in the Top 14 this season and his selection hints at a change of gameplan by Brunel, who last season oversaw three wins and eight defeats, including a first-ever loss to Fiji.
“Romain Ntamack is a strong pick,” Brunel admitted. “Of course, he’s a lad whose qualities we all know.
“He’s shown since the start of the season that he’s capable of adapting to the levels he’s played at.”
Ntamack will be partnered in the centres by Wesley Fofana, who missed the November Tests through injury, with Gael Fickou and Geoffrey Doumayrou providing cover from the bench.
Maxime Medard was named at full-back, with Damian Penaud and Yoann Huget on the wings.