RugbyU: Saint-Andre delivers a surprise with Claassen pick

South African-born flanker Antonie Claassen on Monday was called up by coach Philippe Saint-Andre for the 23-strong French squad to prepare for the Six Nations match against England at Twickenham on February 23.

Claassen was one of five changes to the squad that went down 16-6 to Wales at the Stade de France on Saturday leaving France winless after two games and bottom of the Six Nations standings.

Others to be called up were prop Thomas Domingo, lock Christophe Samson, flanker Yannick Nyanga and winger Vincent Clerc.

Left out were Yannick Forestier, Romain Taofifenua, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Damien Chouly and Maxime Mermoz.

Ouedraogo was the only one left out for medical reasons, as he injured a shoulder in Saturday's defeat while Mermoz's demotion probably will see Wesley Fofana come in from the wing to his favoured centre position.

"It was necessary to refresh the squad mentally and physically," said Saint-Andre in a statement.

"It is far from a punishment for the players who are leaving us, we just wanted to rediscover this level of spirit which allowed us to enjoy such a successful spell in November (three test wins over Australia, Argentina and Samoa).

"It was also important to give ourselves some supplementary strategic options.

"Coming up against an England side which is impressive both in its strength and pragmatism, we want to put in place the right conditions for a smash and grab raid at Twickenham.

"For that it is imperative we have to boost our aggression."

Claassen, the son of former Springbok player and captain Wynand Claassen, is the ninth foreign-born player to be included in a French international line-up, the last being another South African centre, Brian Liebenberg, in 2003.

Claassen, who arrived in France in 2007 first playing for Brive before moving to Castres, is eligible to play for France becuase he fulfils the criteria of having lived in his adopted country for more than three years.

"He fits the profile of the player who will bring to our table power and fluid movement with the ball," said Saint-Andre in a statement.

The 31-year-old Clerc is back for his 65th cap after missing the defeats to Italy and Wales due to a hamstring injury. He is currently France's second-highest try scorer with 34, four behind full-back Serge Blanco.

Domingo and Nyanga are also seasoned France internationals, while Castres lock Samson won his only cap to date as a replacement against Argentina last June.

The two losses to Italy and Wales is the worst start to a Five/Six Nations tournament for the French since 1982 and they will be facing an England team full of confidence after wins over Scotland and Ireland.

The France squad for the Six Nations match against England at Twickenham on February 23:

Fowards: Vincent Debaty (Clermont), Thomas Domingo (Clermont), Benjamin Kayser (Clermont), Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing-Metro), Luc Ducalcon (Racing-Metro), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Yoann Maestri (Toulouse), Christophe Samson (Castres), Jocelino Suta (Toulon), Antonie Claassen (Castres), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), Yannick Nyanga (Toulouse), Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)

Backs: Maxxime Machenaud (Racing-Metro), Morgan Parra (Clermont), Frederic Michalak (Toulon), Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse) Benjamin Fall (Racing-Metro), Wesley Fofana (Clermont), Florian Fritz (Toulouse), Yoann Huget (Toulouse)

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