It is a measure of French contentment that after their 27-10, bonus point win over Scotland last Saturday week Jacques Brunel has named an unchanged side for the first time in his 14-match tenure to face Ireland in Sunday's Guinness Six Nations game at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 3pm).
Brunel and his inexperienced coaching staff had made six changes in response to the opening night defeat at home by Wales, after leading 16-0 at half-time, and another four changes and three positional switches in a revamped backline after the 44-8 loss against England at Twickenham.
Now, having stumbled upon a more balanced and winning formula against Scotland - largely by dint of restoring players to their specialised positions - Brunel has kept faith with the entire 23 which were on duty last Saturday week in Paris.
“This was logical given the relatively pleasing performance against Scotland after a disappointing showing against England,” said Brunel.
Brunel has availed of Toulouse's rejuvenation this season by investing in a core of young backs from the French club, namely 22-year-old scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, the 19-year-old Roman Ntamack, who made his first test start in his third cap against Scotland, and 23-year-old fullback Thomas Ramos, who made his full test debut in that game, as well as relative veteran Yoann Huget.
Ramos created the first try with a daring counter-attack from inside his own 22 and then provided the try-scoring pass for Ntamack.
“Given the presence of the likes of Ntamack, Huget and Dupont that is undeniable and is the type of spirit we want imbued in the squad,” said Brunel. “That spirit is to create something which rattles the adversary. We saw this with the try created by Thomas Ramos against Scotland.
“They are all progressing nicely in my eyes,” added Brunel. “They were excellent attacking and very calm in defence against the Scots. Sunday is obviously another level of a challenge. But if the scrum puts them in strong positions like they did against Scotland then they will be able to show how good they are in attack.”
Brunel has noted Ireland's relative struggles to date in losing to England before the hard-earned wins over Scotland and Italy, but clearly expects an improved showing on Sunday.
“We know the Irish characteristics, they love possession of the ball and putting together long phases of attacks; wearing one down. We have seen they have been shaky against England even Italy gave them problems. However, they remain a strong rugby nation and they are bolstered by having confidence in their style of play. That quality they have not lost.”
The attendant French media made much of the absence of the Clermont halfbacks, Morgan Parra and especially Camille Lopez, who performed strongly for Clermont in their 52-17 win over Lyon last weekend. Each had been critical of France's preparations for the hammering in Twickenham, after which each had been dropped. Baptiste Serin and Anthony Belleau remain the understudies.
“I see you are more interested by those players who are not in the squad than those that are,” noted Brunel. “I am very happy that Camille Lopez was able to play for his club Clermont last weekend that is the reason we sent him back there so he could regain some confidence and some of his old vim. He returned to us with new vigour in his step and that is good for the confidence of the squad as a whole.”
The absence of Lopez and his Clermont team-mate Fofana, who also returned from the injury he suffered in the Wales game last weekend, means the two players Brunel said were key to their Six Nations campaign no longer figure.
Brunel has also resisted the temptation to recall Racing winger Teddy Thomas, who marked his return from a lengthy absence with three tries in the Parisians 50-14 win at home to La Rochelle.
“Players will return from injury you have see that with Dupont and Yacouba Camara. Unfortunately it is not in our power to keep the players in cotton wool. We cannot protect them. Today it is obvious that the squad selected is the one that will go to the World Cup.
“There are those like Teddy Thomas who are returning after time on the sidelines but they have to prove their fitness long term we will see how they progress over the next six months.”
France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Yoann Huget; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Demba Bamba; Sebastien Vahaamahina, Felix Lambey; Wenceslas Lauret, Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Etienne Falgoux, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Willemse, Gregory Alldritt, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Belleau, Maxime Medard.