France v Japan, Rugby World Cup, August 10
France look to put down marker
ESPNscrum Staff
September 7, 2011
France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili kicks a penalty, France v Fiji, Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes, France, November 13, 2010
Yachvili takes the scrum-half berth ahead of Morgan Parra for the opening clash © Getty Images

With all eyes on New Zealand in Pool A, France will hope to lay down a marker with a commanding performance against Japan on Saturday.

France have flattered to deceive in the past and although possessing some of the best players the world has even seen in the guise of Serge Blanco and Phillipe Sella, they have never reached the tournament's podium and have instead been the bridesmaids in 1987 and 1999. Despite hosting the tournament in 2007, France ran into a resilient England side and were bullied out of the tournament - losing 14-9. And yet they are probably the side the All Blacks fear most having accounted for them in 1999 and 2007.

Lying in wait for Marc Lievremont's charges this weekend is John Kirwan's Japan. With only one win to their name in World Cup history - against Zimbabwe in 1991 - and a draw - against Canada in 2007 - history would suggest that they will pose a limited threat to France. However, with the Asian Five Nations and the Pacific Nations Cup already tied up this year, Kirwan has targeted two wins from their group and resilient performances against the pool favourites. With French unpredictability a notable facet of the current vintage of charges, Lievremont's team could go all the way in the tournament or crash spectacularly during the pool stages.

France - Player to Watch: Dimitri Yachvili takes the scrum-half spot ahead of Morgan Parra and the Biarritz man looks set to impress against Japan. Possessing an impressive kicking game, Yachvili will compliment the hugely talented Francois Trinh-Duc in the fly-half berth.

France - Team News: Cedric Heymans takes the fullback reins with the prolific duo of Maxime Medard and Vincent Clerc hoping to impress from the wings. Aurelien Rougerie takes the outside centre spot alongside Fabrice Estebanez. The halfbacks Trinh-Duc and Yachvili will hope to profit from a formidable forward unit which is spearheaded at No.8 by World Cup bolter Raphael Lakafia. Imanol Harinordoquy and Thierry Dusautoir line up alongside Lakafia with the hugely experienced Lionel Nallet partnered by Julien Pierre in the second-row. The traditionally strong French front-row is typically imposing with Fabien Barcella, William Servat and Nicolas Mas taking the reins.

Japan - Player to Watch: After scoring two tries in the 2007 World Cup, the first of which saw him finish off a sweeping Japanese attack from five metres out from their own line in their defeat by Wales in Cardiff, Kosuke Endo will be hoping to make just as big an impact this time around. Japan might not see much ball on Saturday but if they can get it in to the hands of Endo any time that they do, the flying winger will take care of the rest.

Japan - Team News: There are just two survivors from the back-line which faced the United States in Tokyo last month, with Ryan Nicholas retaining his place at inside centre and Hirotoki holding on to the No.11 jersey. Shaun Webb returns at fullback, Koji Taira joins Nicholas in midfield, while Kosuke Endo is recalled on the right wing. Meanwhile, James Arlidge is paired with Fumiaki Tanaka in the half-backs. It's a similar story in the pack, with Kirwan only retaining two players who started against the Americans: Luke Thompson, who has been paired with Toshizumi Kitagawa in the second-row, and captain Takashi Kikutani, who switches from No.8 to blindside flanker to accommodate Ryukoliniasi Holani. Elsewhere, Hisateru Hirashima, Shota Horie, Kensuke Hatakeyama form a new front-row, while Michael Leitch gets the nod on the openside.

Key Battle: A back-row of Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy and Raphael Lakafia represents an unenviable proposition for any nation. For Japan and their trio Takashi Kikutani, Michael Leitch and Ryukoliniasi Holani, it is downright terrifying. Expect Les Bleus to boss the breakdown.

Trivia: France have scored six tries in both of the two sides previous clashes.

Stats: Japan are just 25 points away from achieving the undesirable milestone of having conceded 1000 World Cup points.

Quote Unquote:

"It's always difficult to pick a team but there was a lot of stress because this is a game that we are taking very seriously" - Les Bleus Marc Lievremont on his decision to roll out the big guns for his side's tournament opener

"It's the World Cup. You don't want to come here and have it be easy. It should be like this and I'm pleased. As a second-tier nation, we need to know what to do to get better, so bring it on." - Japan boss John Kirwan gives his reaction to France's near full-strength line-up

Prediction: One is never sure which France side is going to turn up on any given day and there was a fear that complacency might be a factor against the talented but lightweight Cherry Blossoms. However, Lievremont's decision to pick his strongest side has put paid to that, so expect Les Bleus to open with a comprehensive victory.

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