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We wanted to work with the team that won all three November games as a mainframe, in which Thierry Dusautoir returns, having played his last game with us in March 2012. Yoann Huget will play fullback, a position he knows well, having started 6 games out of 11 with the number 15 in Toulouse.
Is it the team you wanted to see through the week of was there still some hesitation?
We wanted to evaluate the players' current form, because there might have been some disparities, like between Maxime Machenaud and Morgan Parra. But besides that, it was a matter of consistency between November and now. The week has been much lighter in terms of spending time on the field, the players needed to recover. They had a day off on thursday and I think they will be ready on Sunday.
There was a real discussion about the loose forwards. Fulgence Ouedraogo is very important to us, since he was our best line-out taker in November. We had to know if was back to 100% after his ankle injury.
Choosing those 23 players is giving trust to them. It also means having respect for those who left and might come back during the competition. It was hard to tell Yannick Nyanga he wasn't picked, because he did everything well while he was with us. The 23 know they are the lucky ones.
When we selected the first group of 33 players, Thierry Dusautoir wasn't playing with Toulouse, after a knee injury. But he played to good games in Leicester and against Biarritz. We wanted to see him with us, and saw that in terms of preparation and fitness, he had done a lot of hard work to be back at his best. His sensations were good when we did full-on oppositions during practice. We saw the Dusautoir we know, hard in the tackle, resilient at the breakdown. That's what we will need in Italy, a solid defense and experience. He is very happy to be back with us, shows a lot of focus and wants to performs well on Sunday.
You are said to be one of the two favorites for this Tournament...
We were also favorites to get the win in Italy two years ago... Let's focus on this game for now. The highest level of competition is about consistency and being able to perform every week-end. We have now for wins in a row, and we want a fifth. Let's win that one first, then we'll have very little time to prepare for the second one against Wales.
But I suppose after November, it makes sense that England and France are the favorites.
We are ambitious competitors, but the priority is to have a good first game in the competition. We're working with blocks of two games, so let's do everything to get a win in Italy and have a good first home game next week.
A word on Benjamin Fall's return? Why him and what do you expect of him?
He was pretty much the 24th man in November, he was in the group in case of injury and he had the best knowledge of our systems and organization. He's shown good form with us during the week, he's skilled under high ball and very strong in the contact. That's exactly what we'll need against the Italians. His ability to play on the wings and at fullback gives us solutions in the backline.
Did you at some point consider putting the Toulon 10-12-13 axis on the field together?
No, we decided to see the players who were playing on November since they had done a great job in the middle of the field. They are more used to our systems and defensive organization. But Mathieu Bastareaud is showing a lot of power with Toulon every week-end. He can be very important to us in the last 30 minutes of a game, with the ability to break tackles. But again, we have a lot of solutions.
Do you intend to keep the ball in hand throughout the game?
With Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz and Benjamin Fall, we have a lot of very decent kickers in the backline. We heard Frederic Michalak was not a good kicker but he got 18 from 20 in November! We'll see what happens on Sunday, but this backline has great counter-attacking skills. It the Italians decide to give us a lot of ball, we might see a lot of both, kicking and running games.
Only three players in the starting team were there two years ago. Do you feel among them a sort of fear about this first game?
We have to fear them at least a little after seeing how the Italians performed in November. This is no longer a small team. They are constantly evolving and improving, and we know this is going to be a tough opposition.
The boys have a lot of respect for Italy, they are aware of what can happen if they don't produce a serious performance. To avoid this we need to be prepared, be disciplined, and be precise when it comes to our set-piece.