France have selected South African-born locks Bernard Le Roux and Paul Willemse for their Six Nations opener against Italy this weekend.

The inclusion of 30-year-old Toulon lock Romain Taofifenua on the bench lends experience to a relatively young squad.

South Africans at the heart of French scrum

Willemse is set to play his 13th Test for France and make his ninth start for the Tricolour while Le Roux is among the more seasoned forwards with 44 caps already to his name.

Both players left South Africa relatively early in their careers and have made a name for themselves in the French Top 14. Willemse is a bruising hulk of a man standing over two-metres tall and weighing in at more than 130kgs while Le Roux is a more mobile player who has also played flank.

Taofifenua has been commended for his cultural impact on the team, he travelled to the 2019 World Cup after being preferred to man-mountain Willemse and his impact on team morale has been lauded by coach Fabien Galthié.

“He knows all the songs of Francis Cabrel, Francis Lalanne, Maxime Le Forestier, Joe Dassin,” said Galthie.

“He is very into culture, especially when it comes to the songs. When the group sings, he is at the heart of it.”


Exciting backs

With Romain Ntamack still sidelines with a double jaw fracture, Matthieu Jalibert retains his place at fly-half and will partner up with impactful scrumhalf Antoine Dupont.

“He is ready,” said Galthie. “Like this team, he has gained experience, in club and the French team. He is getting stronger, he is finding his feet.”

Brice Dulin and Gabin Villiere, who both impressed during the Autumn Nations Cup, were also named in the starting line-up.

“He (Villiere) really showed up for the two matches he was chosen for,” said Galthie. 

“He has been performing for some time for his club. He demanded the jersey.”

Racing 92’s Teddy Thomas is on the right wing while Montpellier centre Arthur Vincent replaces Virimi Vakatawa who has a knee injury, one of a number of absentees for Galthie.

Six Nations – France team

France team to play Italy (15-1): Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Gabin Villiere; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (capt), Dylan Cretin; Paul Willemse, Bernard Le Roux; Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille

Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Dorian Aldeghiri, Romain Taofifenua, Anthony Jeronch, Baptiste Serin, Louis Carbonel, Damian Penaud

Coach: Fabien Galthie (FRA) Protection Status