Preview: France v South Africa

Date published: November 9 2018

France face a tricky assignment when they get their end-of-year Test campaign underway against South Africa at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Despite playing on their home turf, Les Bleus head into this fixture as the underdogs as they have lost their last six encounters against the Springboks with four of those defeats coming in the past 18 months.

Adding to that, the French have delivered a mixed bag of results in 2018 although there have been some positive signs under the guidance of head coach Jacques Brunel, who took charge of the team at the start of the year.

They only won two matches in this year’s Six Nations – against England and Italy – but ran Ireland, Scotland and Wales close. However, they battled in their three-Test series against New Zealand in June and eventually lost all three of those matches.

With just two triumphs from eight Tests so far this year, France back-row Arthur Iturria highlighted the importance of securing a victory against the Boks.

“We have to win,” he told AFP.

“We have very good players and a good system. If we bring all the ingredients together at the same time I don’t see why we cannot rival the best teams in the world. I hope that will be the case on Saturday evening.”

Meanwhile, the Springboks are also under pressure and can ill afford another loss after suffering a narrow defeat to England last weekend in the opening match of their four-Test tour.

There was plenty of controversy in the aftermath of that match when referee Angus Gardner failed to penalise England fly-half Owen Farrell for what looked like an illegal tackle on Springbok centre Andre Esterhuizen within goalkicking range.

Although that penalty would have secured a win for South Africa, they should have beaten England comfortably as they had the bulk of the possession and territory.

The Springboks will be determined to improve on that showing and their coach, Rassie Erasmus, is aware that his side have to improve their finishing against Les Bleus.

Erasmus described France as a dangerous side and said they will provide the Springboks with formidable opposition on Saturday.

“The French are very physical and skilful, and we will have to be good on defence and also be disciplined,” said Erasmus.

“The conditions here in the northern hemisphere demand a different approach and while we created a lot of opportunities last week we have to better with our execution.”

Players to watch:

For France: One player who will need little motivation for the home side is Louis Picamoles. The behemoth number eight is a superb ball carrier and will be determined to get his side over the advantage line with some barnstorming runs. However, the 32-year-old’s game is not just about brute force as he also has some subtleties in his armoury and his ability to offload in the tackle makes him particularly dangerous.

For South Africa: After delivering one of his worst performances in a green and gold jersey, in last weekend’s loss to England, Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx can consider himself fortunate to be in the starting line-up for this encounter. At his best, Marx is one of the world’s best players and his nomination for the World Rugby Player of the Year award is testament to that. His ball carrying and prowess at the breakdown is excellent but in that Test against England his lineout throw-ins were poor and one of the main reasons for the Boks’ defeat. He will be determined to improve in that department against France.

Head-to-head: The battle between the two flyhalves is always important and both France’s Camille Lopez and Handre Pollard of the Springboks will be determined to prove their worth to their respective sides, albeit for different reasons. Lopez is a man on a mission. He makes his return to the Test arena after an 18-month break due to a serious ankle injury and will be keen to repay the faith shown in him by his coach. Meanwhile, Pollard will be keen to deliver an improved performace after offering little on attack against England and missed a vital penalty late on in that clash. Both pivots will be expected to dictate the pace of the game and lead the way in the playmaking department.

Previous results:

2018: South Africa won 18-17 in Paris
2017: South Africa won 35-12 in Johannesburg
2017: South Africa won 37-15 in Durban
2017: South Africa won 37-14 in Pretoria
2013: South Africa won 19-10 in Paris
2010: South Africa won 42-17 in Cape Town
2009: France won 20-13 in Toulouse
2006: France won 36-26 in Cape Town

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Prediction: The Springboks will be highly motivated to return to winning ways and will take this one, albeit by a narrow margin. South Africa to win by four points.

The teams:

France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Damian Penaud, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Gael Fickou

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe

Date: Saturday, November 10
Venue: Stade de France
Kick-off: 21:05 local (20:05 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)