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France forced into late change to XV ahead of Italy clash

By Josh Raisey
France's Louis Bielle-Biarrey (2nd L), France's hooker Peato Mauvaka (2nd R) and France's flanker Charles Ollivon (R) take part in a training session of the French rugby team in Marcoussis, south of Paris, on February 6, 2024, as part of France's national rugby union team's preparations for the Six Nations Rugby Union tournament match between France and Scotland scheduled for February 10 in Paris. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

France winger Louis Bielle-Biarrey has been forced to withdraw from France’s Guinness Six Nations contest against Italy on Sunday, France have confirmed in a statement on social media.

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The 20-year-old was set to start on the left wing at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille in round three of the Championship, and has been replaced in the squad by Toulouse winger Matthis Lebel, who had been released back to his club for this weekend’s latest round of Top 14 action.

French outlet Sud Rugby Radio have reported that the Bordeaux-Begles wing has a stiff neck.

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France 7s Captain Paulin Riva Dupont joining the 7s squad

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France 7s Captain Paulin Riva Dupont joining the 7s squad

Lebel will start on the left wing against the Azzurri, though Bielle-Biarrey’s Bordeaux-Begles teammate Yoram Moefana could have been promoted from the bench to the starting XV.

Moefana started against Ireland in round one on the wing, with Bielle-Biarrey on the bench, but their roles reversed in round two victory over Scotland in Edinburgh, with Bielle-Biarrey bagging the match-winning try for Les Bleus.

France XV: 15. Ramos 14. Penaud 13. Fickou 12. Danty 11. Lebel  10. Jalibert 9. Lucu 8. Cros 7. Ollivon (cap) 6. Boudehent 5. Tuilagi 4. Woki 3. Atonio 2. Mauvaka 1. Baille

Replacements: 16. Marchand 17. S.Taofifenua 18. Aldegheri 19. R.Taofifenua 20. Roumat 21. Abadie 22. Le Garrec 23. Moefana

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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