CASTRES, FRANCE – He may be the glory boy of French rugby, but Teddy Thomas has learned the hard way that no player – not even one who has scored four tries in the first two Tests of his international career – is bigger than The Team.
Flying wingman Thomas had been due to start his third match for Les Bleus against Argentina on Saturday, but missed a team meeting at Marcoussis on Wednesday evening and was promptly dropped from the squad.
He will be replaced in the starting XV by Toulouse’s 40-cap Maxime Medard.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre told a press conference on Thursday morning: “In the France squad there are rules that everyone should respect. Teddy, who we like a lot, forgot them yesterday.
“When you play for France you have to be irreproachable on and off the pitch. I spoke to Teddy yesterday. He understands and I’m sure he will grow up as a result.”
Thomas was at training on Thursday morning.
News of his absence is a blow to French fans, who will have been looking forward to seeing the Racing Metro tyro burning down the wing against the Pumas at Stade de France.
Saint-Andre has made four other changes to the side that has won its last two games. Xavier Chiocci comes in at prop, Benjamin Kayser at hooker and monster lock Sebastien Vahaamahina also starts.
Meanwhile, centre Maxime Mermoz returns to Les Bleus’ colours for the first time since the tense 22-20 Six Nations defeat against Ireland in March.
But, for a second match in a row, Saint-Andre has kept his tinkering to a minimum.
He has kept faith with halfback pairing Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Camille Lopez, who have started both autumn internationals, amid early indications that he may – finally – have found the nine-10 axis the French have so desperately needed in recent years.
It’s taken the coach 13 goes, but this very un-French partnership appears to be working.
Compare Tillous-Borde with the rest of the latest generation of French nines, and it’s not hard to see key differences: he isn’t a natural kicker, certainly when compared to the likes of Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvilli, Maxime Machenaud, and even new Bleu Rory Kockott.
And, unlike all of the above, he tends to let his 10 do the decision making – probably in part because he’s had natural leaders like Jonny Wilkinson or Matt Giteau outside him.
He is a classic nine. He needs a classic 10.
Enter Lopez. He has blossomed since joining Clermont from Perpignan over the summer, and has accepted penalty duties, along with those of playmaker, with aplomb.
He landed six out of seven penalties against Australia last week and moves around the international pitch as if he owns it. Two ropey out-on-the-full restarts apart, he looked as if he had been born with the French number 10 shirt on his back last week.
There have been many false dawns at fly-half for France in recent years – Stade Francais’ Jules Plisson’s star faded rapidly after a bright start; even before injury ruled him out of contention for these three internationals, Francois Trinh-Duc never seemed able to successfully replicate his club form when playing for his country; and the word ‘mercurial’ may well have been invented for Freddie Michalak.
If France make it three wins out of three on Saturday (and they stay fit) it will be hard for Saint-Andre to pick anyone other than Tillous-Borde at nine and Lopez at 10 for the Six Nations.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking a French victory is a certainty. Argentina are ninth in the world rankings, three places below their hosts on Saturday. They lost their first match of their autumn tour against Scotland, but then beat Italy, and are looking for their fifth win in nine outings against Les Bleus.
It will be a tough match.
Raw power used to be Argentina’s strength. These days it’s sheer pace. Their rugby is simple, but it’s fast. The 10-12 double-out-half pairing of Toulon-based Nicolas Sanchez and Toulon-bound Juan Martin Hernandez will be crucial. If they can release the likes of Racing Metro’s Juan Imhoff, France could find themselves in big trouble very quickly.
That’s it for now… Feel free to add your thoughts below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Scheenagh Harrington, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.