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Preview: France v Australia

21st November 2008 08:58

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Matt Giteau v england

Matt Giteau: Terror of the French

While France were denying claims that they were seeking revenge against the Pumas two weeks ago, that will not be the case when Australia visit the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris on Saturday.

French fans will need no reminding of the humiliating fashion in which the Wallabies swept aside an understrength XV de France on consecutive weekends earlier this year.

A handful of the French players who have survived from that fateful tour Down Under have said that it is time the Australians were forced to give them the respect that they feel was missing last June.

What should we expect from Les Bleus? Who knows! The Wallabies don't have a clue and some pundits in France are not sure the French players know either.

Marc Lièvremont's team have not reproduced the same pattern twice since he took over the reins but the plan is supposedly to strike a balance between traditional French attacking flair and a pragmatic kicking game.

There has been a constant theme in the quotes coming from the players in the French camp since the start of the Lièvremont era - don't stress, no pressure, let your talent do the talking.

Like Peter de Villiers in South Africa, Lièvremont is a great proponent of the 'play what's in front of you' school of thought. But like his Springbok counterpart, Lièvremont has been forced to check his attacking ambitions and return to a more structured approach to Test rugby.

It's ironic how the French wheel seems to have come full circle. The players this week were repeating how France need to cut down their error count - reminiscent of the Bernard Laporte era when pas de faute (no mistakes) was the mantra.

In comparison, Australia seem a far more settled side. Australia have not beaten Les Bleus in France since 2000, but after getting the better of the old enemy England last week, Robbie Deans' troops have shown they have all the arms required to carry on were they left off in Brisbane five months ago.

Their is no doubt that young as France's side is, it is packed with quality players who will take heart from Australia's sluggish performance against Italy two weeks ago.

Whether or not they can finally bring it all together in coherent performance will decide who walks away with the spoils on Saturday.

The common theme of France's November Tests so far has been familiarity. Of course there aren't any current Wallabies playing in France but a certain Ewen McKenzie (Head Coach at Stade Français) paid the Aussie camp a visit on Tuesday and we can only guess what he might or might not have revealed.

If there is one thing the French are familiar with, it's the attacking prowess of Matt Giteau. The Wallaby fly-half tore the French back-line apart last time they met and his opposite number, David Skrela, has admitted how weary the home side are of him, saying Giteau is in "the same class as (Dan) Cater or (Juan Martin) Hernandez."

The Wallaby pack's performance at Twickenham proved that they can no longer be targeted and if they can provide Giteau with quality go-forward ball, he will be a real handful.

Skrela hit the nail on the head when he said that France will have to tidy up their errors if they are to have a chance. This game, as Test matches so often are, will be won and lost over small details.

One to watch:

For France: It might seem like a cliché to pick Sébastien Chabal, he's easy enough to watch - with all that hair, you can't miss him. But the darling of the French media and public has a point to prove. Left out in the cold at the start of the Lièvremont era, the 'caveman' has forced his way back into contention thanks to a strong showing while on tour in Australia, where he was used as a lock for the first time. This is his first chance to start in a full-strength French team and an ideal opportunity to silence the critics of his work rate...and his age.

For Australia: After making a big impression in his run-on debut against Italy two weeks ago, Ben Alexander takes over at loosehead from Benn Robinson. You don't get much greener than Alexander at Test level and up against Nicolas Mas, he'll face as hard an opponent as they come. At the end of a long season, if Australia suffer from 'tired legs syndrome' his freshness, strength and enthusiasm will be invaluable.

Head-to-head: In what is expected to be a closely-run affair where cool heads will be the order of the day, the battle in the inside centre channel between Benoit Baby and Stirling Mortlock will be one to keep an eye on. Both are handy kickers, but neither is specialist at the position. A veteran of Test rugby, Mortlock will be piling the pressure on Baby as a recent returnee to the international fold. Mortlock is the bigger of the two while Baby, who can also play full-back and fly-half, has an extra yard of pace.

Recent results:

2008 Australia won 40-10 in Brisbane

2008 Australia won 34-13 in Sydney

2005 France won 26-16 in Marseilles

2005 Australia won 37-31 in Brisbane

2004 France won 27-14 in Paris

2002 Australia won 25-31 in Sydney

2002 Australia won 29-17 in Melbourne

2001 France won 14-13 in Marseilles

2000 Australia won 18-13-18 in Paris

1999 Australia won 35-12 in Cardiff (RWC Final)

Prediction: Australia's victory over England seemed to be founded more on English mistakes than Wallaby inspiration. France will not be so slack. France by two.

The teams:

France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Yannick Jauzion, 12 Benoit Baby, 11 Cedric Heymans, 10 David Skrela, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Lionel Nallet (c), 4 Sébastien Chabal, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Lionel Faure.

Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Benoit Lecouls, 18 Romain Millo Chluski, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Julien Tomas, 21 Damien Traille, 22 Alexis Palisson.

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Hugh McMeniman, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.

Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Mark Chisholm, 19 David Pocock, 20 Sam Cordingley, 21 Quade Cooper, 22 Digby Ioane.

Date: Saturday, November 22

Venue: Stade de France, Paris

Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT)

Weather: -2°C and clear, but with a strong north-westerly wind possibly bringing the odd flurry of snow later

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

Touch judges: Chris White (England) , David Changleng (Scotland)

Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

By Ross Hastie

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