Bastareaud makes the cut
Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud has made the second cut for a place in France's squad for this year's Six Nations.
Bastareaud, recalled after a near three-year absence, took one step closer to a Test return after coach Philippe Saint-Andre trimmed his initial 33-strong group to an official squad of 24 for Sunday's opener against Italy.
Flanker Thierry Dusautoir and prop Luc Ducalcon were also retained in a group which will ultimately be cut further down to 23 on Wednesday after Saint-Andre works out his options on the fitness of his loose forwards.
Saint-Andre will unveil his starting line-up on Friday.
Bastareaud is in superlative form with Top 14 leaders Toulon, who also topped their Heineken Cup pool to reach the quarter-finals, and is seemingly a reformed character since his move from Stade Francais.
His fall from grace there had been remarkable after he had been considered one of the brightest prospects both at club and international level.
Humiliatingly, he had to admit he lied over a late night incident on the 2009 tour of New Zealand where he claimed he sustained facial injuries after being assaulted on his way back to the team hotel.
It turned out he had fallen over a table in his room having returned in a drunken state.
Bastareaud nevertheless played a full role in the 2010 Six Nations Grand Slam campaign, starting all five games, but since then he has failed to add to his nine caps amid poor form and weight problems.
But now he is back in favour and ready to seize a new chance to shine.
Dusautoir, IRB player of the year in 2011, has not worn the blue shirt since the last Six Nations in which the French came a desultory fourth.
He was left off the subsequent tour of Argentina and then missed out in the November Tests owing to a knee injury.
But now the Toulouse forward is likely to claim a starting berth with Montpellier's Fulgence Ouedraogo nursing an ankle injury.
Racing Metro's Ducalcon last featured at the 2011 World Cup but also makes the squad, while Saint-Andre has given a vote of confidence to 22-year-old second row Romain Taofifenua, who has just one cap to date.
<b>Forwards:</b> Vincent Debaty (Clermont), Yannick Forestier (Castres), Benjamin Kayser (Clermont), Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing-Metro), Luc Ducalcon (Racing-Metro), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Yoann Maestri (Toulouse), Pascal Pape (Stade Francais, capt), Romain Taofifenua (Perpignan), Damien Chouly (Clermont), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse), Yannick Nyanga (Toulouse), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)
<b>Backs:</b> Maxime Machenaud (Racing-Metro), Morgan Parra (Clermont), Frederic Michalak (Toulon), FranÃ§ois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon), Benjamin Fall (Racing-Metro), Wesley Fofana (Clermont), Florian Fritz (Toulouse), Yoann Huget (Toulouse), Maxime Mermoz (Toulon)