A week ago the final Test between Australia and France would have been predicted to be a walkover. But after Melbourne things changed.
One week ago the third and final Test between Australia and France would have been predicted to be a walkover. But after Melbourne things changed.
Leading up to the Etihad Stadium meeting, the teams entered on the back of a 50-23 result in Brisbane where Australia ran amok in week one.
Few were expecting such a performance shift and even less would have believed the score would be 0-0 at the interval and finish 6-0 at full-time.
However, that is what happened as a much-changed France – both in personnel and attitude – made life very tough for a host struggling for form.
Credit where credit is due, the French were much better and eased a smidge of the pressure on the shoulders of coach Philippe Saint-AndrÃ©. But they now can't slip back into old habits otherwise a thirteenth loss in nineteen Tests since the start of 2013 might become too much for the FFR.
What last week proved was they do have a team to compete at the top level and there's also the positive of seeing Alexandre Menini go well on debut. Depth at prop is certainly there with Nicolas Mas and Thomas Domingo coming on in Melbourne while Vincent Debaty is an option this week so they're well stocked. Christophe Tolofua must now begin to prove though that he is an impact player for Guilhem Guirado.
For Australia meanwhile it has been clear that coach Ewen McKenzie has approached this series with a good balance of looking to now and what is to come in the next seventeen months. He seems pretty settled on his three-quarter quartet of Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua and Nick Cummins, with Kurtley Beale, Pat McCabe and this week Rob Horne an impressive burst of energy on the hour mark that hurts rivals.
Nic White and Bernard Foley have been assured as a half-back combination while it appears Wycliff Palu and Scott Fardy is his number eight and six going forward. That may come as a surprise to many seeing as Scott Higginbotham has been knocked down the pecking order but again that shows depth in quality in the current Wallaby reserves.
What has been the main plus point for McKenzie though over this past few weeks is the situation at second-row where a once problem area seems to be now brimming with talent who possess different qualities. Rob Simmons has been a mainstay in all three Tests so it appears he's the number one lock while Sam Carter was excellent on debut in Brisbane and has surely, like those who played since, been told of the rotation plan during June.
Since Carter had his run, the following week saw James Horwill start before Luke Jones came off the bench. This week it's the turn of 140kg monster Will Skelton, whose size and carrying ability will be a delight to watch. The future is big and bright at lock for Australia and if they replicate match one instead of the dire second Test, June will have been a hugely positive month ahead of stiffer August fixtures in what's a vital Rugby Championship.
Ones to watch:
For Australia: If you aren't clued up on your Super Rugby then make a mental note to watch a player in gold wearing number…actually, you'll see him. Will Skelton has been making an impact in more ways than one this season as his carries have helped lead the Waratahs to the top of the Australian summit. Ewen McKenzie will hope he follows the example of Sam Carter and Luke Jones in proving he has what it takes for Test rugby. We back him.
For France: Alongside hooker Guilhem Guirado, full-back Brice Dulin was one of France's top players last week as his return to the side gave Les Bleus much more threat on the counter. His pace seemed to take the Wallabies by surprise while he has a cultured left boot that he uses when needed. If France are to end the Test series with a victory, another strong showing from this elusive number fifteen will be critical to their hopes of victory.
Head-to-head: He hadn't played for a while before making his return in Melbourne, but looking at Thierry Dusautoir during the post game interview you wouldn't think it. The openside seemed much the same as he was pre-match, which shows how physically fit this player is. We all saw how New Zealand struggled against him in the 2011 World Cup final and his presence against the Wallabies was also noticeable, particularly when you focus on his workrate. Up against him for the second straight weekend will be Australia captain Michael Hooper, who is a different kind of openside. Hooper's pace is frightening while he's been a nuisance at the breakdown all year for his franchise. Some battle awaits.
2014: Australia won 6-0 in Melbourne
2014: Australia won 50-23 in Brisbane
2012: France won 33-6 in Paris
2010: Australia won 59-16 in Paris
2009: Australia won 22-6 in Sydney
2008: Australia won 18-13 in Paris
2008: Australia won 40-10 in Brisbane
2008: Australia won 34-13 in Sydney
2005: France won 26-16 in Marseille
2005: Australia won 37-31 in Brisbane
2004: France won 27-14 in Paris
2002: Australia won 31-25 in Sydney
2002: Australia won 29-17 in Melbourne
2001: France won 14-13 in Marseille
Prediction: A bit more week one than week two from the hosts. Australia by 14!
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 James Horwill, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Rob Horne.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Hugo Bonneval, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Alexandre Menini.
Replacements: 16 Christophe Tolofua, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Yannick Nyanga, 22 Maxime Machenaud, 23 Remi Lamerat.
Date: Saturday, June 21
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 15:00 local (06:00 BST, 05:00 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), George Clancy (Ireland)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)