Preview - South Africa v France
Preview - South Africa v FranceSHARE
Bok brutality against French flair
It may sound like a cliché, but it will the Springboks' brutal force against French flair in the one-off Test at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.
There is a lot more at stake than just honour and another test victory. It is the Six Nations champions against No.2 on the International Rugby Board (IRB) rankings. And it is that second place on the rankings that the French are after as they strive to notch up an elusive southern win for all of the Northern Hemisphere.
This will definitely be a match of highest intensity and certainly the Boks' biggest test of the year thus far. With all due respect to Scotland, they were just not up for it and it was only the Boks' own shortcomings that kept the margins respectable in the recent two-match series.
South Africa coach Jake White this week spoke of injuries having forced him to go for 'Plan B', because 'Plan A' went out the door with injuries to key players like Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie.
But there are some cynics who would suggest they haven't even seen 'Plan A' in action yet.
Yes, there were glimpses of the Boks' true abilities in the first half of the first test against Scotland.
But in another 160 minutes of rugby – the encounter with the World XV at Ellis Park and the second Test against Scotland in Port Elizabeth last week – there were enough evidence to suggest that the Boks might struggle to keep their unbeaten home record intact against a very talented French side.
But White will go for a safety first option: win at all costs – even if it means doing so with boring, ugly rugby.
Yes, the French have also had their ups and downs this year – there was the loss to Scotland at Murrayfield – but overall they have the manpower to really trouble the South Africans.
They have even suggested they will employ a conservative gameplan and try to match the Boks physically.
But it is the combinations they picked that catch the eye – virtually the entire Toulouse backline and the shrewd move of selecting Damien Traille at fly-half, giving them a Biarritz halfback combination.
With Biarritz and Stade Français providing the bulk of the forwards, it is clear the French will be meticulous in their approach at Newlands.
They certainly have the ability to match the Boks' physical power, but there's a lot more flair in this French side than in the XV that the Boks have chosen to put on the park.
The Biarritz tactics of using their forwards to close out games will come in handy if things get tight – as they are expected to be. But the Toulouse backs will also test the Boks' much-vaunted defensive lines.
The Boks will no doubt rely heavily on their defensive structures to win this one. With De Wet Barry at inside centre, expect a lot of pressure to come onto the French inside backs.
We are not dismissing the South Africa's attacking abilities – and they do had some very skillful players – but the overall picture is one of a defensive nature.
Simply put, the Boks will try and tackle them into submission.
And you can count on the big Bok forwards – with the likes of Os du Randt, Danie Rossouw and Pedrie Wannenburg to the fore – to carry the ball up at every opportunity.
Players to watch:
For South Africa: With defence playing such a vital role in the Bok gameplan, the performance of De Wet Barry (back for his first test of the year) will be crucial. He is known for his big (often high) hits, but he has been very ineffective in the Super 14 this year. You will have to go back a year or two to find the quality of rugby that earned Barry his reputation as a fearsome defender. You can also look at Brent Russell on the wing for some creative genius, Wynand Olivier at outside centre, Jaco van der Westhuyzen at fly-half and even Danie Rossouw at lock.
For France: Without doubt the decision to name Damien Traille at fly-half will have a huge bearing on the game. He is a real all-rounder, but what few people outside France don't realise is that he has great hands and the pace for a break. In France he is rated as their second best fly-half by a long way – with only the injured Frédéric Michalak a better bet. But the other backline player to watch (and for the Boks that means watch him very carefully) is the Perpignan fullback Julien Laharrague. The French media are touting him as the game's surprise package.
Head-to-head: The absence of Schalk Burger forced Bok coach Jake White to reshuffle his loose forwards and the battle at the breakdown is going to be vital. White says you need "15 fetchers" in the team. Certainly the showdown between the South African trio of Pedrie Wannenburg, Juan Smith and Joe van Niekerk and the French combination of Imanol Harinordoquy, Thierry Dusautoir and Serge Betsen will be crucial in the final wash. The line-outs will also be vital, with Victor Matfield (South Africa) up against Jerôme Thion (France). The one advantage South Africa will have is that their loose forwards – Wannenburg, Smith and Van Niekerk – provides them with extra line-out options.
Prediction: It is quite surprising that the bookmakers are giving the French a seven-point headstart. But then again, that accounts for home ground advantage and the fact that the Springboks are on the verge of a record 14-match unbeaten run at home. But statistics and recent results suggest it could be a bit tighter than that. The two teams have met 19 times on South African soil (the first time back in 1958). The Boks won nine of those, with five French victories and five draws. Yes, five draws – including both matches previously played between these two sides at Newlands. The match average between the two countries on SA soil is 19-14 for the Boks, and we believe it will be that close this time as well. South Africa to win, but by less than ten points.
Totalbet.com prediction: South Africa to win by seven points.
2005: France won 26-20, Paris
2005: South Africa won 27-13, Port Elisabeth
2005: The teams drew 30-30, Durban
2002: In Marseilles: France won 30-10
2001: In Paris: France won 20-10
2001: In Durban: South Africa won 20-15
2001: In Johannesburg: France won 32-23
1997: In Paris: South Africa won 52-10
1997: In Lyon: South Africa won 36-32
1996: In Paris: South Africa won 13-12
1996: In Bordeaux: South Africa won 22-12
South Africa: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Brent Russell, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 De Wet Barry, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Joe van Niekerk, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Eddie Andrews, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Os du Randt.
Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Jacques Cronjé, 20 Enrico Januarie, 21 Wayne Julies, 22 Gaffie du Toit.
France: 15 Julien Laharrague, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Cédric Heymans, 10 Damien Traille, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Serge Betsen, 5 Jerôme Thion, 4 Fabien Pelous (captain), 3 Pieter de Villiers, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Sylvain Marconnet.
Replacements: 16 Raphaël Ibañez, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Lionel Nallet, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Rémy Martin, 21 Pierre Mignoni, 22 Thomas Castaignède.
Date: Saturday 24 June
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Conditions: Fine, with a fresh south-easterly – max 20°C, min 10°C
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch judges: Tony Spreadbury, Rob Debney (both England)
Television match official: Simon MacDowell (Ireland)
Assessor: Jim Bailey (Wales)
By Jan de Koning