France’s less-experienced team is cautious about facing Uruguay, known for their aggressive style of play

In Paris, despite making significant changes to his team for Thursday’s Rugby World Cup match against the less-favored Uruguay in Lille, France head coach Fabien Galthie is not underestimating their opponents.

France had an impressive start to the tournament, defeating three-time champions New Zealand last Friday and is now considered favorites to secure a spot in the quarter-finals by finishing atop Pool A.

Uruguay, beginning their World Cup campaign this week in the northern city, finished at the bottom of their pool in 2019, but Galthie acknowledged positive aspects in their performances in Japan.

“They managed to defeat Fiji, and their score against Australia was respectable,” Galthie informed reporters during the week.

“They have a lot of determination. Uruguay is a unique country with a strong emphasis on their values, particularly in the breakdown and their pride, which are significant priorities for them.”

“They are a team known for their high energy and aggressive style,” he further commented.

Galthie has retained only three players from the squad that secured victory against the All Blacks, opting to rest key players such as No 8 Gregory Alldritt, center Gael Fickou, flanker Charles Ollivon, as well as captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont.

Additionally, hooker Julien Marchand is unavailable due to a hamstring injury sustained in last week’s win, which raised expectations of France potentially winning their first Webb Ellis trophy even higher among the home supporters.

In the absence of captain Dupont, his former roommate and No 8 Anthony Jelonch will step in, marking his first appearance since recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in February.

“These players will provide their support over the next three days,” said Jelonch from Toulouse. “Even if they’re not in the starting lineup, their influence will be significant.

“Antoine, Greg, Gael, Charles, Julien, the leaders of the squad, are very vocal and provide leadership,” the 27-year-old added.

Presidential presence

On the right wing for Galthie’s team will be Louis Bielle-Biarrey from Bordeaux-Begles, making only his fourth Test appearance after his debut in August. Remarkably, at the age of 20, he will also become the youngest player from his country to participate in a World Cup.

Regarding this achievement, Bielle-Biarrey commented, “It doesn’t mean much to me; I’m happy, but it’s not what will make us world champions,” with a touch of humor. He added, “Things have happened very quickly for me, and I want to enjoy it.”

Uruguay, known as Los Teros, will have a French connection in their squad, with five of their players based at clubs in France. Furthermore, Uruguay’s president, Luis Lacalle Pou, will be present in the stands to watch the match.

“This matters to us; we play to represent a lot of people. The fact that he’s there is an additional reason for that,” noted Nicolas Freitas, a winger from Vannes. “It’s great to know that we represent the best of our country,” he added.

The match will be held at Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy, which has a capacity of 50,000 and is the home stadium of the town’s football club. Despite the game being played closer to the Belgian border than to a top-tier professional rugby team, tickets for the match have been sold out for several months.

Jelonch commented on the regional preference for football, saying, “It’s a football region, which is what you think when you come from the south-west. We’re very pleased to see all the rugby fans here, and we’ll do our best to provide them with the best possible spectacle.”

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