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Minor changes to my starting line-up can inspire France to triumph at the Aviva, maintains coach Noves

By Nick Purewal

France coach Guy Noves says the three changes to Les Bleus' starting line-up for the RBS Six Nations clash with Ireland tomorrow are all logical choices.

Prop Rabah Slimani, flanker Bernard Le Roux and wing Yoann Huget come in for Uini Atonio, Loann Goujon and Virimi Vakatawa respectively for the Aviva Stadium clash.

New Zealand-born wing Vakatawa has a thigh injury while Atonio makes way for Slimani, who scored a try against England in the narrow defeat at Twickenham.

Back-row forward Goujon has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament after fracturing a bone in his sinuses following a clash of heads in the match against Scotland.

France beat Scotland 22-16 at the Stade de France last time out and Noves chose to only make minor adjustments to his team before taking on Joe Schmidt's Ireland.

"Virimi (Vakatawa) was injured after the match against Scotland two weeks ago," the Frenchman said.

"We felt that he had to stay with us to take care of himself and work, insofar as he is part of the FFR.

"The logic was therefore Yoann (Huget), who is getting back in shape. He is full of enthusiasm, he has been exceptional in his behaviour by putting himself at the service of others."

When asked why Le Roux was given the nod at flanker ahead of Charles Ollivon, Noves commented: "It still seems quite logical, too.

"Bernard had been released so that he could play with his club, he played full matches. The injuries of Loann Goujon and Damien Chouly meant that he could return and possibly start.

"Charles Ollivon also returned, but he played less (17 minutes with Toulon)."

Racing 92 centre Henry Chavancy is called up to the bench along with Ollivon, prop Eddy Ben Arous and wing Djibril Camara, but there is no place for juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who misses the match completely after suffering a concussion.

Noves admitted Ireland are one of the top nations in world rugby at the moment and agreed with France Rugby president Bernard Laporte, who said this is the most important match of the year.

"I respect what Bernard (Laporte) thinks," Noves said. "This is the most important in this tournament because it is the one that we play on Saturday. But it is no more important than the next match.

"The trip to England was the most important at the time and we showed that we can compete at least 70 minutes with the English.

"Today, with a few more weeks of work, this game is important because we need big matches and those are against the best nations.

"Ireland, unquestionably, are one of the best nations. They are the only team that beat New Zealand (40-29, in Chicago last November).

"They are a team that may have temporarily fallen asleep against Scotland (where they were beaten 27-22 in the opening round of the tournament), but who reacted immediately by putting 60 points (10-63) to Italy."

Belfast Telegraph

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