Planet Rugby

Preview: France v Australia

09th November 2012 08:08

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Australian fullback Kurtley Beale R vies with French flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo

Kurtley Beale: Showing Australia the way forward

On Saturday, the Wallabies return to the scene of the crime of their 2010 humiliation of France chasing a sixth straight victory over the hosts.

Les Bleus were booed off the field by their own fans after conceding 59 points on that fateful evening at the Stade de France as the cracks in Marc Lièvremont's relationship with his players began to emerge.

How things have changed! France will field a starting XV this weekend featuring just three survivors from that ill-fated team - Fulgence Ouedraogo, Nicolas Mas and Thomas Domingo while Morgan Parra and Yoann Huget are on the bench.

The Wallaby team is also almost entirely different with Nathan Sharpe the only player to be wearing the same number he did back then. Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper also return, but in different roles.

Despite all the changes and new faces compared to that freezing night in Paris two years ago, Philippe Saint-André is actually sending out a relatively settled unit. Indeed, the core of what was thought to be an 'experimental' side that thumped Argentina in June has been retained.

At Thursday's team announcement PSA was at pains to stress that at 2, 8, 9,10 and 15 he has retained the players that performed well on tour. It's also worth noting that the midfield is also unchanged, meaning France's most exciting player, Wesley Fofana, has been moved a bit further away from the action and must settle for a place on the wing.

The average age of the team has dropped from 30 last season to 26 this weekend, which bodes well for the future.

Robbie Deans is in a very different position. Far from being spoilt for choice, a brutal spate of injuries over the last few months has meant the Wallaby coach's side largely picks itself.

But for once this year, Deans too has had the the benefit of some continuity and the tourists will certainly be buoyed by their record-halting draw against the All Blacks a fortnight ago.

The Aussies wrestled their way to that result with more guts than flash which is a positive sign in terms of the spirit within the team. With afternoon rain expected to leave the pitch wet and slippery, more of the same might be needed on the outskirts of the French capital.

With the Wallabies unlikely to drop out of the top three in the world rankings this month, France have far more to gain on Saturday as victory will lift them above England and into that key top four spot ahead of the draw for the 2015 World Cup.

In many ways, this November represents the first stage in the build up to the big event in England three years from now. Starting that journey on a positive note is the ultimate goal for all.

Players to watch:

For France: Mercurial Toulon playmaker Frederic Michalak's stop-start international career received a further boost when he was named ahead of Francois Trinh-Duc at fly-half. Mickalak returned to France from the Sharks with plans a gunning for the number nine jersey, where he's been playing most of his rugby lately (inside Jonny Wilkinson) but won't be complaining about being tasked guiding France's attack. Toulouse flanker Yannick Nyanga is playing his first international since the ill-tempered third-place play-off of the 2007 World Cup against Argentina. Nyanga, who takes over from injured captain Thierry Dusautoir, was one of the few players in France who didn't receive a call up during the Lièvremont era but is finally getting his chance. Filling the boots of last year's IRB Player of the Year is no easy task though.

For Australia: Just when all seemed lost for the injury-depleted Wallabies, Michael Hooper emerged as a world-class flank. With David Pocock's return imminent and Dave Dennis continually failing to impress, a strong performance from Hooper would make a strong case his retention in the starting XV against England next week. With Quade Cooper in the dog box, and likely to stay there, Kurtley Beale has an opportunity to cement his place as Australia's number one playmaker for the next few years.

Head-to-head: France have essentially picked two opensides to counteract the Wallabies' ability to move the point of attack across the field at pace but the real fireworks could be in the clash between two bulldozing number eights, Louis Picamoles and Wycliff Palu. This will be Palu's second game back after a long spell on the sidelines and he'll be eager to impress against one of Europe's in-form loose forwards. The battle of the replacement front rows is set to be interesting with France enjoying the luxury of having Clermont's entire (very heavy) front row on their bench while Australia are fielding a rookie prop in the form of Paddy Ryan, who will have a target on his back if he comes on.

Previous results:
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 very tough one to call. The history books point towards the Wallabies and it's hard to judge this French side on the basis of their last outing against a third-string Pumas outfit. So many back-line players starting out of their regular club positions is a worry. Man for man - on paper at least - the French probably have a stronger side, but they haven't played together in five months. Despite all their injuries, Wallabies showed their quality by claiming a draw against the All Blacks last time out which suggests they're good enough to retain the Trophée des Bicentenaries. However, after a gruelling Rugby Championship campaign, we reckon the tourists might be running on empty. France by three or four points

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Florian Fritz , 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Vincent Clerc, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Pascal Papé (c), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Yoann Huget

Australia: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Radike Samo, 21 Liam Gill, 22 Brett Sheehan, 23 Berrick Barnes.

Date: Saturday, November 10
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Weather: 9°C at kick-off. Late afternoon showers
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

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