Paris: France head coach Fabien Galthie may have made wholesale changes to his side for Thursday’s Rugby World Cup game with lowly Uruguay in Lille, but he refuses to take them lightly.
Les Bleus opened the tournament with a rip-roaring victory over three-time winners New Zealand on Friday, and are now favourites to secure a quarter-final berth by topping Pool A.
Uruguay, who start their World Cup campaign in the northern city this week, finished bottom of their pool in 2019 but Galthie saw positives in their performances in Japan.
“They beat Fiji. Against Australia it was a respectable score,” Galthie told reporters this week.
“They have big hearts. Uruguay is a different country with their fundamental values being at the breakdown and their pride, which are big priorities for them.
“They are a team with a lot of energy and aggression,” he added.
Galthie has kept just three players from the All Blacks victory having chosen to rest the likes of No 8 Gregory Alldritt, centre Gael Fickou, flanker Charles Ollivon as well as captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont.
The former Test scrum-half is also without hooker Julien Marchand due to a hamstring issue suffered in last week’s win, a result that lifted expectations of a first Webb Ellis trophy success even further among the home support.
In skipper Dupont’s place is his former room-mate and No 8 Anthony Jelonch, who plays his first game since rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament in February.
“These players will help me throughout the three days to come,” Toulouse’s Jelonch said.
“Even if they’re not on the team sheet they will have a word to say.
“Antoine, Greg, Gael, Charles, Julien, the leaders of the squad talk a lot, and lead the troop,” the 27-year-old added.
On the right wing for Galthie’s side will be Bordeaux-Begles’ Louis Bielle-Biarrey, who will make just his fourth Test appearance, after his debut in August.
The 20-year-old will also become his country’s youngest player at a World Cup.
“It doesn’t mean much to me, I’m happy but it’s not that which will help us be world champions,” he jokingly said.
“Things have gone really quickly for me. I want to enjoy it,” he added.
For Uruguay, nicknamed Los Teros, they will have a French touch to their outfit, with five of their squad based at a club in the home country.
Additionally, Uruguay president Luis Lacalle Pou will be in the stands watching the match.
“It matters, we play to represent a lot of people. The fact that he’s there is another reason for that,” Vannes winger Nicolas Freitas said.
“It’s good to know that we represent the best of our country,” he added.
The game takes place at Lille’s 50,000-capacity Stade Pierre-Mauroy, the home of the town’s football club, who won the last of their four French titles in 2021.
Despite the fixture being played nearer to the Belgian border than to a top-tier professional rugby outfit, tickets for the match have been sold out for months.
“It’s a football region, which is what you think when you come from the south-west,” Jelonch said.
“We’re very happy to see all the rugby fans here and we’ll try and give them the best spectacle possible,” he added.