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Michalak returns to France team for All Blacks test

The Canadian Press

6/13/2013 9:48:50 AM

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Veteran flyhalf Frederic Michalak has been included among four changes to the French rugby team for Saturday's second test against New Zealand at Christchurch.

Michalak is the only backline personnel change announced Thursday by coach Philippe Saint-Andre. He was chosen to play his 66th test in place of Camille Lopez, who made his debut in last weekend's 23-13 loss in the first test at Eden Park.

Saint-Andre has made one backline positional change, moving Maxime Medard to fullback and switching Yohann Huget to the left wing.

There are three changes to the French forward pack for the match. The 33-year-old Nicolas Mas will play at tighthead prop ahead of Luc Dulcalcon, lock Christophe Samson replaces Sebastien Vahaamahina, and South African-born Bernard le Roux will start on the blindside flank in place of Fulgence Ouedraogo.

Castres flyhalf Remi Tales has been selected on the reserves bench and will make his test debut if he takes the field, while centre Mathieu Basteraud has returned from injury to claim a place on the bench.

Saint-Andre has resisted breaking up the effective midfield partnership of Florian Fritz and Wesley Fofana from the first test at Auckland.

The coach has been able to work into his second test lineup several of the Toulon and Castres players who missed the first test after arriving late in New Zealand because of the French Top 14 final.

Michalak, Samson, Basteraud and Tales were among players involved in that match. Basteraud has been battling a thigh injury and on Wednesday considered himself only a 50-50 chance to be fit for the match but has made a speedy recovery.

Saint-Andre said Michalak, who was among the architects of France's 2007 World Cup quarterfinal win over New Zealand, was an obvious inclusion.

"He's a talented player, he has a lot of flair," Saint-Andre said. "He's also a world-class kicker. But we know it will be harder because New Zealand will be more organized and will be much more clinical.

"We just need to improve what didn't work last week. We were not clinical and I hope Michalak can bring us this, and our set-piece must improve. We are very pleased Nicolas Mas, our first-choice tighthead, is back."

Saint-Andre expected personnel changes to harden his forward pack for the match. France outplayed New Zealand at breakdowns in the first test at Eden Park, and the French coach expected the injection of experience and form to give his lineup an additional edge.

"Mas is the first choice of France for the last 10 years," he said. "He's one of the best tightheads in the world and is very good in the scrum. He will bring a lot of experience in the tight five because we were disappointed last week in our set piece.

"Samson has just won the French league with Castres. He's a leader in the lineout and has a very big work rate, while le Roux is young but he's very strong in the contact area."

Saint-Andre said it was imperative for France to concentrate for a full 80 minutes if it is to level the three-test series ahead of the third and final test in New Plymouth.

"You can't switch off for two minutes," he said. "We let ourselves down for five minutes at the end of the first half (in the first test) when they scored two tries.

"Five minutes we switch off and we lost the game. We know the intensity and tempo will be much higher this week, so we need to play the perfect game but just improve on what we can improve on.

"That's being clinical, our set-piece and managing our times in our 30-meter area."

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France: Maxime Medard, Adrien Plante, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Yoann Huget, Frederic Michalak, Maxime Machenaud; Louis Picamoles, Bernard le Roux, Thierry Dusautior (captain), Yoann Maestri, Christophe Samson, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo.

Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Yannick Nyanga, Brice Dulin, Remi Tales, Mathieu Bastareaud.