French opt for young team

Guilhem Guirado will captain the French side. Photo: Getty Images
Guilhem Guirado will captain the French side. Photo: Getty Images
France has thrust youth into the spotlight by handing out four test debuts against the All Blacks.

Of the starting French team which pushed the All Blacks before going down 24-19 in the final test last year, only four players remain. All are in the forward pack.

As predicted earlier this week, French coach Guy Noves has opted for a rookie halves pairing.

That comes in the form of Toulouse halfback Antoine Dupont, the 20-year-old who will make his first test start after coming off the bench in three defeats against South Africa in June, and Toulon first five-eighth Anthony Belleau, one year older.

On debut, Belleau will become France's fifth first-five in the past two years.

His introduction comes with first-choice No 10 Camille Lopez out for five months with a leg injury.

Asked if he had any advice for Belleau, All Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett said: "He must be doing things pretty well if he's getting his opportunity this week. It's up to you to find your own way. You can only learn from experience. There's nothing better than starting for your national side and being thrown onto the big stage."

While the halves pairing, one of Les Bleus' youngest in history, are considered genuine talents with big futures, it could well be a baptism of fire in Paris.

"They're exciting players," Barrett said. "We're aware of their strengths and also their weakness. If they go down that path it's good for them to be introducing new players to the game and giving them opportunities at this level."

La Rochelle second five-eighth Geoffrey Doumayrou is another set for his maiden international at the age of 28 when he starts inside Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud, preparing for his first test in over two years. Bastareaud's last appearance came in the 62-13 thrashing from the All Blacks in the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal.

It means France's 9/10/12 axis has just three caps between them - all held by Dupont.

Stade Francais lock Paul Gabrillagues, and 21-year-old Clermont blindside Judicael Cancoriet, also make their test debuts.

Racing Metro wing Teddy Thomas, with five tests, has been handed the challenging task of marking Rieko Ioane.

France at least has some experience in the form of veteran No 8 Louis Picamoles.

The team is captained by 53-test Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado.

France: 15 Nans Ducuing; 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Mathieu Bastareaud, 11 Yoann Huget; 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Antoine Dupont; 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Judicael Cancoriet; 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina; 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot Replacements: Clement Maynadier, Raphael Chaume, Daniel Kotze, Paul Jedrasiak, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Francois Trinh-Duc, Damian Penaud

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