France v South Africa - teams and predictions
PREVIEW: France may be keen to play down their ‘favourites’ tag, but South Africa is a team in desperate need of some remodelling.
France welcomes World Cup title holders South Africa to Marseille on Saturday on the back of a record 11-match winning streak.
Les Bleus’ impressive stretch of victories goes back to July 2021 and includes a convincing win over New Zealand and a first Six Nations Grand Slam success in more than a decade.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber admitted the French would present a “very different” challenge to his team than they faced in Dublin last week – where they lost 16-19 to the world’s top-ranked team.
“They have a very unique kicking game,” the Bok coach said.
“Everybody’s trying to unlock France at this stage, but nobody’s found the recipe,” Nienaber said.
“That’s the challenge for us as coaches and players.
“They are a very confrontational team, in terms of their ball carriers.
“They have some big men and they have a good set piece – with their line-out accuracy over 90 percent.
“They also have a good rolling maul.”
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Les Bleus’ results have also been built on playing without the ball, discipline and a steely defence.
During their winning streak, a 1930s record beaten with last weekend’s win over Australia, they have conceded more than two tries in a game just twice, against the All Blacks and the only side ranked above them, Ireland.
“They’re quite a stingy team, they don’t allow teams to get close to their half with their kicking game,” Nienaber said.
“When you do get there, they are a really well-organised defensive side,” he added.
This week, Nienaber’s outfit has licked their wounds after last Saturday’s loss in Ireland on the Mediterranean coast, where they will be based before next year’s World Cup tournament.
The Bok coach spoke, ad nauseam, about the need to ‘take the many opportunities they created’.
“We as coaches must take it on the chin,” he said about the team’s failures, adding: “There are a lot of things we mentioned this week and maybe we should put more of an emphasis on that.
“If we get opportunities in the French game, I am sure the guys will be excited to utilise those opportunities.
“Against a team like France, you will not get many of those opportunities.
“When we do get them, we will have to switch on and have massive excitement with the ball in hand.”
French coach Fabien Galthié has turned an under-performing outfit stuck in the middle of inconsistent selection and in-fighting between Top 14 clubs and the federation to second in the world rankings since he took over after the 2019 World Cup.
“The notion of favourites is so subjective,” France team manager Raphael Ibanez told reporters this week.
“We leave other nations the statute of favourites.
“They’re just words, what’s important is action,” the former Test hooker added.
Galthié’s team have played against and beaten every side in the top 10 in the world over the past three years, apart from the Springboks, who last lost to Les Bleus in 2009.
“South Africa, we love them,” Galthié said.
“The South Africans, this team’s story, we’ve followed it since after the World Cup.
“We have great respect for them, what they do is marvellous, sublime in our opinion,” he added.
A big part of the Boks’ success in the World Cup was their ‘Bomb Squad’, six heavy forwards coming off the bench, something which Galthié has attempted to replicate during his tenure.
This weekend, Galthié will hand Montpellier’s 121kg lock Bastien Chalureau a debut as a replacement alongside 135kg second row forward Romain Taofifenua with just two backs among his substitutes.
“Our wish is to have a solid front five starting and a solid front five to finish the match,” Galthié said.
“The question was asked for the 5-3 split but when a guy like Bastien presents himself we felt it was important to open the door and give him a shirt,” the former France captain added.
Players to watch
For France: Centre Jonathan Danty has been named to start, despite missing training to be with his partner and new-born son. The only changes from last weekend’s narrow win over Australia for next year’s World Cup hosts are on the bench – as uncapped pair Reda Wardi and Bastien Chalureau come in for Dany Priso and Killian Geraci. The key to the French game is the halfbacks – flyhalf Romain Ntamack and scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, who is also the captain.
For South Africa: Willie le Roux’s return at fullback is intended to spark a misfiring backline behind a pack that often dominates. Le Roux, 33, is one of five changes from last weekend’s loss to Ireland. Scrumhalf Francois de Klerk, lock Franco Mostert in for the injured Lodewyk de Jager, hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi and loosehead prop Retshegofaditswe Nche are the other new faces for the game at the Stade Vélodrome. Damian Willemse gets another run at flyhalf, despite the 24-year-old’s underwhelming performance last week. Uncapped flyhalf Manie Libbok, if given sufficient time, could provide some spark from a mean-looking bench that also include Malcolm Marx, Steve Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Cobus Reinach and Makazole Mapimpi.
Head to head
@rugby365com: France by eight points
France: 15 Thomas Ramos; 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Yoram Moefana; 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain); 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Anthony Jelonch; 5 Thibaud Flament, 4 Cameron Woki; 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacement: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Bastien Chalureau, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Matthieu Jalibert
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Albertus Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Deon Fourie, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Makazole Mapimpi.
Date: Saturday, November 12
Venue: Stade Vélodrome, France
Kick-off: 21.00 (22.00 South African time; 20.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Periods of clouds and sun, with a gentle breeze. High of 21°HC and a low of 13°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England) & Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
* Additional reporting by AFP