France and Wallabies primed for battle
November 8, 2012
Wesley Fofana is named on the wing for France © Getty Images
France and Australia will come face-to-face in the Stade de France on Saturday for the first time since 2010 and both sides will be looking to kick start their autumn Test programme with a victory.
Les Bleus are at the early stages of their journey under Philippe Saint-Andre but with the battle for the top four spots in the International Rugby Board rankings ahead of December's draw for the 2015 World Cup hanging over the autumn Test programme, both sides will be going all out to secure the win. And there is a huge carrot awaiting France as if they beat Australia, then they will go above England in the rankings and into that key top four spot.
Saint-Andre's French side, after a disappointing Six Nations where they finished fourth with just two wins from five, journeyed to Argentina in the summer to play two Tests against the Pumas and returned with one win from two. They took a mix of experience and fresh faces on tour with one notable omission captain and current IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir. Saint-Andre would have wanted his star flanker fit for the autumn programme but he will miss the entire Test schedule due to injury. Despite this, France still boast a team laden with stars and the French public will be expecting Les Bleus to come out of their three-Test schedule - with further games against Argentina and Samoa coming up - with three wins to their name.
Saint-Andre's opposite number Robbie Deans is a man under-pressure after a mixed Rugby Championship campaign. They recorded three wins from six but will be buoyed by their impressive performance against the All Blacks in Brisbane where they will feel aggrieved at having not come away with the win. But they are still struggling with a lengthy injury list, which includes skipper James Horwill, star back James O'Connor and fly-half Quade Cooper - who also took to Twitter to vent his frustration at the Australian Rugby Union.
Australia will play four games over here - with other Tests against England, Italy and Wales in the pipeline - and the Australian public will expect nothing less than a clean sweep of victories.
France - Player to Watch: Frederic Michalak starts at fly-half for the French despite playing most of his rugby at scrum-half at Toulon. He is mercurial and unpredictable but he will be keen to shine in front of the home support.
France - Team News: Brice Dulin will earn his third cap for Les Bleus at fullback while Wesley Fofana is shifted to the wing alongside Vincent Clerc. In the centres Maxime Mermoz and Florian Fritz are partnered with Michalak and Maxime Machenaud at half-back. The back-row sees Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Yannick Nyanga lining up alongside each other while Yoann Maestri and Pascal Pape form the second-row. Yannick Forestier is handed his debut in the front-row and will pack down alongside Nicolas Mas and Dimitri Szarzewski.
Australia - Player to Watch: Michael Hooper has emerged as a real threat to David Pocock for the openside berth. While Pocock will in all likelihood reclaim the No.7 shirt for the British & Irish Lions tour, Hooper is making the right sorts of waves in the pack and will look to increase his stock with a solid performance in the Stade de France.
Australia - Team News: Deans has made three changes from the team that drew with the All Blacks with tight-head prop Sekope Kepu, blindside flanker Dave Dennis and lock Kane Douglas all been handed starting berths. Kepu comes in for James Slipper while Dennis replaces the suspended Scott Higginbotham. Douglas packs down in place of the injured Sitaleki Timani. On the bench, Stephen Moore is named and he will succeed Jeremy Paul as the Wallabies' most-capped hooker if he gets his opportunity. Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan is also included and he will make his debut if he gets the chance.
Nathan Sharpe will captain the Wallabies © Getty Images
Key Battle: Wycliff Palu is up against Louis Picamoles at the back of the scrum and it should be a titanic battle between the two No.8s. Picamoles is arguably the best No.8 in the northern hemisphere while Palu turns in consistently high performances both in Super Rugby and on the international stage.
Trivia: No French player has ever scored a hat-trick against Australia. Five players have scored two tries for France playing against Australia, with fullback Serge Blanco achieving the feat twice.
Stats: This will be Frederic Michalak's first home start in the blue of France since the bronze medal playoff in the 2007 World Cup.
"We will meet the very best in the world after New Zealand. This is a unique challenge that awaits us and the players are relishing it." - France boss Philippe Saint-Andre
"The atmosphere at the Stade de France is always fantastic and the crowd vociferous: it's a great place to play the game, and a magnificent experience that none of the players who are fortunate enough to put on a jersey on the weekend will ever forget." - Wallabies coach Robbie Deans
Prediction: It'll be a tight affair with the match decided by two points either side but we think France will just edge it.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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