Two-time World Cup finalists France look set to be without three key backs for their World Cup opener against Japan in North Harbour next Saturday according to French assistant coach Emile Ntamack.
Ntamack, who stands aside after the World Cup along with head coach Marc Lievremont and scrum handler Didier Retiere, said that Alexis Palisson, veteran Damien Traille - who is entering his third World Cup - and injury-prone centre Maxime Mermoz were all likely to miss the Group A match.
Palisson has torn his psoas muscle, Traille suffered a knock to a knee in last month's win in Bordeaux over Ireland but has returned to training, while Mermoz had all but been ruled out by Lievremont as he is still recovering from the twisted left knee he suffered in the same Ireland match.
"We know very well that for the first match it is going to be very difficult [for Palisson]," said Ntamack.
"Maxime Mermoz and Damien Traille are in the process of returning, and they are getting progressively better.
"Will they be ready? That would be to say they will be 100 percent Sunday or Monday and that will not be the case.
"That will make their chances of playing difficult, even if the news is better on their side."
Ntamack, who played with Lievremont in the 1999 World Cup final defeat by Australia, admitted that they were battling to have enough backs for the Japan match.
"It gives us just about the adequate number for the backline but we are inclined to be extremely prudent in terms of the preparation," said the 41-year-old, who scored 26 tries in 46 tests.
Lievremont - who will be replaced by Philippe Saint-Andre after the World Cup - will announce his starting line-up on Tuesday.
The French will also face Tonga, Canada and the likely table-topping decider with hosts the All Blacks on September 24.
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