Marc Lievremont, the France coach, yesterday recalled Mathieu Bastareaud to add power to his backline for Saturday's Six Nations Grand Slam game against England in Paris, while Wales will field their youngest ever player when Tom Prydie lines up against Italy at the Millennium Stadium.
The return of the bulky 21-year-old centre Bastareaud, who is preferred to David Marty, is the only change from the France team that beat Italy 46-20 last Sunday. "David performed well against Italy but we didn't forget Mathieu's good performances in the first games of the championship," Lievremont said. "With rather lightweight wings and full-back, we decided to give more density to the middle of our backline."
Bastareaud started in France's first three victories against Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but could only make the bench for the Italy game because he had not fully recovered from an ankle injury. Marty scored two tries against the Azzurri, but it was not enough for him to keep his place in the starting line-up. "We went for Mathieu because he is punchy and has a lot of dynamism and aggression in defence," Lievremont said.
A win at the Stade de France will seal France's first Grand Slam since 2004. An England win, coupled with Ireland beating Scotland, will see the title decided on points difference, with France 50 ahead of the Irish in the for and against columns. Prydie is one of five changes made by Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, for the game against Italy which will bring the curtain down on a disappointing campaign for the Welsh, who have lost to France, Ireland and England.
He replaces Leigh Halfpenny, who needs shoulder surgery. Prydie, the Ospreys winger, will make his international debut aged just 18 years and 27 days, breaking Norman Biggs's 112-year-old record by 24 days. "Tom has been with us for the duration of the campaign, he was one of two youngsters - brought in alongside Kristian Phillips - who we wanted to have a look at and we've been impressed with him," said Gatland. "We heard some good things about him from his region and from the coaches at Under 18 level and he has lived up to that, as has Kristian as well.
"He is the fastest player in the squad, he can play at full-back as well as on the wing and he is not afraid to tackle, so we'll see how he goes." There is also a first Six Nations start for Sam Warburton, the 21-year-old Cardiff flanker, who is preferred to the 95-cap veteran Martyn Williams. Meanwhile, Ireland have named an unchanged side for a second successive week as they close in on their fifth Triple Crown in seven seasons. Their opponents in Dublin, Scotland, have delayed naming their team until today.