Australia, preoccupied France set for 1st of 3 rugby tests

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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — It hasn't been an ideal preparation for France heading into the first rugby test against the Wallabies on Wednesday.

The French spent two weeks in COVID-19-forced quarantine at a Sydney hotel with limited outside access for training and didn’t plan to arrive in Brisbane until Tuesday night. The squad has 21 uncapped players and is missing star halves Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.

Former French captain and now general manager Raphael Ibanez said it’s been a tough preparation which included having to construct their own gym in the hotel parking lot.

“Rugby Australia did their best to welcome us but on the rugby side, there’s no doubt it’s impacted preparation,” Ibanez said. “They’ll maybe get a quick view of the stadium . . . it’s not really (like anything I’ve encountered before) but as I said to the players, you have to expect anything and be ready for anything.”

France has already played five tests this year in the Six Nations tournament, winning three times and finishing second behind Wales.

“Our domestic (Top 14) season was probably the longest ever and we didn’t have any other option than leaving some key players at home,” Ibanez said of the side in Australia. “The goal now is to turn this issue into an opportunity, but we believe we have enough talent to match the best.”

French coach Fabien Galthie named two players set to make their test debuts for Wednesday's match. Missing the bulk of his first-choice side, Galthie has selected as much experience as possible with just fullback Melvyn Jaminet and hooker Gaetan Barlot to make their debuts.

Jaminet, 22, has yet to even play in the French Top 14. There are five potential debutants on the reserves bench.

“The players have everything to gain,” Galthie said. “It is the opportunity for many to assert themselves, to reveal themselves, and to take a place in the … XV of France two and a half years before the World Cup.”

On Monday, Australia coach David Rennie said Jake Gordon and Noah Lolesio would form a new halves combination for the Suncorp Stadium match.

Gordon overcame a knee injury to edge Tate McDermott for the vacant halfback jersey with regular starter Nic White sidelined. And with James O’Connor also injured, Lolesio gets his second start after making his test debut at flyhalf last year against the All Blacks when Australia was beaten 43-5.

Gordon, the New South Wales Waratahs captain, injured his knee in the penultimate game of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition, putting him in doubt for the France series.

Rennie named four potential Wallabies debutants on the bench — hooker Lachlan Lonergan, lock Darcy Swain, center Len Ikitau and utility back Andrew Kellaway.

Rennie said the team has had a good preparation for the France series, which will be completed in just 11 days with the second test in Melbourne on July 13 before the final test in Brisbane again on July 17.

“The whole squad has been training really hard over the past three weeks to prepare for what’s going to be an exciting, tough series against the French,” Rennie said.

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Teams:

Australia: James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Matt Philip, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (captain), Harry Wilson, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Marika Koroibete, Matt To’omua, Hunter Paisami, Tom Wright, Tom Banks. Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Darcy Swain, Isi Naisarani, Tate McDermott, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway.

France: Jean-Baptise Gros, Gaetan Barlot, Demba Bamba, Killian Geraci, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Anthony Jelonch (captain), Sekou Macalou, Baptise Couilloud, Louis Carbonel, Gabin Villiere, Jonathan Danty, Arthur Vincent, Damian Penaud, Melvyn Jaminet. Reserves: Anthony Etrillard, Quentin Walcker, Sipili Falatea, Florent Vanverberghe, Baptiste Pesenti, Cameron Woki, Teddy Iribaren, Anthony Bouthier

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

The Associated Press

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