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France coach Brunel picks new halves pair for Scotland game

By JEROME PUGMIRE

AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) France coach Jacques Brunel selected a new halves pairing of scrumhalf Antoine Dupont and flyhalf Romain Ntamack on Tuesday for the Six Nations match against Scotland on Saturday.

Although they have never played together at international level, they are club teammates with Toulouse in France's Top 14 league. Brunel dropped scrumhalf Morgan Parra and flyhalf Camille Lopez from the squad.

They played in the 44-8 loss at England two weeks ago and both were critical of the French set up after the game. Brunel said the decision to drop them was not linked to their comments and was taken only for sporting reasons.

"The halves didn't perform as we expected against England," Brunel said. "We deserve to change things after a defeat like the one against England."

Ntamack is a center by trade and only rarely plays at flyhalf for Toulouse, but Brunel is confident he can perform against Scotland.

"It isn't a problem. Having spoken to him, I know he doesn't really have a preference," Brunel said. "He plays center for Toulouse, but at the same time he's the one who organizes their play. If we hadn't any doubts we wouldn't have picked him."

France lost its opening match against Wales 24-19 after leading 16-0 at halftime.

"We've lost twice and we have to get back up," said Brunel, who has lost 10 of his 13 games since replacing Guy Noves in December 2017. "I don't think Scotland is scared of us. Given how we played against England, they're probably feeling confident."

Scotland opened its campaign with a 33-20 win over Italy before losing to defending champion Ireland 22-13 at home.

For the third straight match, Brunel has selected a new-look backline.

This time, the inexperienced Thomas Ramos replaces Yoann Huget at fullback and will take kicking duties in his first test start. Huget goes to right wing in place of Damian Penaud, who in turn replaces Gael Fickou on the left wing, while Fickou moves inside to center alongside Mathieu Bastareaud.

Bastareaud and Fickou were paired together during France's first ever loss to Fiji in November. Center Geoffrey Doumayrou, who was picked against England, is not on the bench.

In the only change among the forwards, Wenceslas Lauret replaces Yacouba Camara at flanker.

"Yacouba admitted himself that he didn't play well against," Brunel said. "He played below his level."

Backs Baptiste Serin, Anthony Belleau and Maxime Medard are all on the bench after being left out of the England game.

Brunel usually selects his side two days before the game, but this time moved his team selection forward by two days. During a terse news conference he brushed aside questions regarding his own future and whether he could be replaced before the World Cup in Japan later this year.

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France: Thomas Ramos, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Damian Penaud, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Louis Picamoles, Arthur Iturria, Wenceslas Lauret, Felix Lambey, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Demba Bamba, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Jefferson Poirot. Reserves: Camille Chat, Etienne Falgoux, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Willemse, Gregory Alldritt, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Belleau, Maxime Medard.

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Updated February 19, 2019