Preview: France v United States
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: France will look to long-serving No.8 Louis Picamoles for inspiration as he captains his country for the first time against the United States in the tournament’s ‘group of death’.
Les Bleus squeaked home 23-21 against Argentina in their first match and are hoping to press their advantage in the ultra-competitive Pool C, which also includes England, who beat the United States 45-7.
Coach Jacques Brunel has rung the changes for the clash in Fukuoka, on the southwestern tip of Japan, with only three players surviving from the nail-biting win over the Pumas.
Flyhalf Camille Lopez, whose drop goal broke Pumas hearts, starts at 10, preferred this time to young gun Romain Ntamack.
“We tried to balance things over the two games, to play everyone. Some people will play twice. We also tried to take into account everyone’s form and fitness. We had to select two teams,” Brunel told reporters.
Fresh from a 10-day break after the Argentina game, France has only four days to recover from playing the Eagles before facing a highly physical Tongan XV – not to mention the potential pool decider against eternal enemy England.
But Brunel said he was not looking ahead to “Le Crunch” in Yokohama on October 12.
“Frankly, we have not thought about our team for England. What is important is to win these two matches. If we do that and Argentina lose to England, we should have qualified” for the quarter-finals, said Brunel.
For the coach, handing Picamoles the captaincy in place of hooker Guilhem Guirado was a logical choice.
The rampaging number eight “has the most experience in this reshuffled team. And it’s a position and a role that he knows” from his club side Montpellier.
The 33-year-old is the oldest player in the French squad and is enjoying his third World Cup. Although he has won 80 caps, he has never led out Les Bleus.
France will have an embarrassment of riches in the kicking department, with Lopez, scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud or fullback Thomas Ramos all experienced goalkickers at club level.
Black armbands for Chirac
The United States put up respectable resistance to Eddie Jones’ powerful side in the opening game but coach Gary Gold was furious with his players, calling on them to improve “every aspect of their game” after the 45-7 defeat.
“You can’t be missing nearly 40 tackles a game and hope that you are going to be in the equation. It was a pretty awful performance by us,” said Gold after the game.
He has made five changes to the XV that started against England – the majority of them enforced by injury or suspension.
John Quill, who received the tournament’s first red card and was later suspended, has been replaced by Hanco Germishuys.
Bryce Campbell and Mike Teo have been named to replace the injured pair of Paul Lasike and Will Hooley.
And Eric Fry has been picked in place of David Ainu’u, who left the World Cup after sustaining a bad ankle injury.
After fears the game could be rescheduled due to a typhoon bearing down on Japan, World Rugby confirmed on Monday the match would go ahead as planned as the storm is weakening and passing to the north.
France will wear black armbands in honour of former president Jacques Chirac, who died on Thursday.
Players to watch
For France: Apart from the captaincy of Louis Picamoles, coach Jacques Brunel made 12 changes – as he starts preparing Les for a potentially group-deciding ‘Le Crunch’ against old enemies England on October 12 in Yokohama. Camille Lopez, whose drop-goal proved the difference between France and Argentina on the opening weekend, will start at flyhalf, forming a halfback partnership with Maxime Machenaud.
For the United States: John Quill, who is suspended after suffering the ignominy of receiving the tournament’s first red card, has been replaced by Hanco Germishuys. Bryce Campbell and Mike Teo have been named to replace the injured pair of Paul Lasike and Will Hooley. And Eric Fry has been picked in place of David Ainu’u, who left the World Cup after sustaining a bad ankle injury.
Head to head: The only question is whether the United States forwards can stand up to the French pack. Hanco Germishuys, born in Kimberley and having had a stint with the Sharks Academy in South Africa, has the task of containing Yacouba Camara. Probably the toughest contest will be the scrums – Emerick Setiano, Camille Chat and Cyril Baille (France) against Titi Lamositele, Joe Taufete’e and Eric Fry (United States).
Prediction: France is expected to win this match comfortably, but the United States may keep it close in the early stages – perhaps the first half. The telling time will be the final quarter, when we expected France‘s greater skill and fitness to see them race clear and win by 30 points.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Alivereti Raka, 13 Sofiane Guitoune, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles (captain), 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Arthur Iturria, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Emerick Setiano, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Romain Ntamack, 23 Maxime Medard.
United States: 15 Mike Teo, 14 Blaine Scully (captain), 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Bryce Campbell, 11 Martin Iosefo, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Shaun Davies, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Hanco Germishuys, 6 Tony Lamborn, 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Nate Brakeley, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Eric Fry.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Fawsitt, 17 Olive Kilifi, 18 Paul Mullen, 19 Greg Peterson, 20 Ben Pinkelman, 21 Ruben de Haas, 22 Will Magie, 23 Thretton Palamo.
Date: Wednesday, October 2
Venue: Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka City
Kick-off: 16.45 (03.45 USA Eastern time; 07.45 GMT; 09.45 France time)
Expected weather: Cloudy with spotty showers; breezy and humid. High of 30°C and a low of 23°C
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)