France fly-half Romain Ntamack insists he and his team-mates have no interest in discussing one of the biggest humiliations in the national team’s history ahead of Sunday’s Rugby World Cup showdown against Tonga.
Ntamack will feature alongside scrum-half Baptiste Serin in France’s third halfback partnership of the tournament after coach Jacques Brunel made 11 changes to the side that beat the United States 33-9.
Relatively comfortable wins in games where a major nation are heavy favourites are not always a formality, however, as France found out against Tonga at the 2011 World Cup.
Les Bleus might have ended the tournament as runners-up, but they only got out of the pool stage on account of accruing more bonus points after losing 19-14 to the Pacific Islanders in Wellington.
“We do not talk about it at all,” said Ntamack, whose father Emile was a member of France’s backroom staff at the 2011 World Cup.
“It has never been on the table. It is not a debate that has been started.
“I believe there are three players who experienced this match and none of them have spoken about it. It’s not something we look at. My father has not told me anything about it.”
A battling opening victory over Argentina means France have won two out of two, and a repeat of Tonga’s heroics of eight years ago feels a far-fetched prospect.
Losses to England and Argentina mean there is not a point on the board yet for coach Touta Kefu, who brings tight-head prop Ma’afu Fia and wing Cooper Vuna into his Tonga starting XV.
Nasi Manu is back on the bench after a hip problem sidelined him against Argentina.
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) October 4, 2019
PLAYERS TO WATCH
France – Jefferson Poirot
Brunel’s willingness to rotate means Poirot becomes France’s third captain of the tournament as he leads a reshuffled pack. Poirot came off the bench to score against the USA, when number eight Louis Picamoles stood in for benched hooker Guilhem Guirado.
Tonga – Cooper Vuna
The highlight of Vuna’s lively contribution off the bench against Argentina was a wonderful backhanded pass to release Telusa Veainu to touch down. Tonga will need plenty more of that inspiration and flair in Kumamoto, with Vuna starting on the wing.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– There have been three red cards in the five previous clashes between Tonga and France. Feleti Mahoni was sent off for Tonga in 1995, while Yoann Maestri and Sona Taumalolo were given their marching orders for fighting each other in a 2013 match.
– Sione Kalamafoni and Siale Piutau are set to make their 11th Rugby World Cup appearances, joining Vunga Lilo and Soane Tonga’uiha as Tonga’s most capped players in the competition.
– Camille Lopez is the only France player with multiple try assists (two) at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, both coming from kicks. Four of Lopez’s five try assists in his Test career have come via kicks.
– Pierre-Louis Barassi could become the eighth France player to make his Test debut at a Rugby World Cup should he feature off the bench. Remy Grosso was the last to do so against Canada in 2015.