France

Preview: France v Australia

Fri, 09 Nov 2012 08:12
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The French should win by a few point
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Australia will bid to stretch their winning run over a youthful France side to a record-equalling six successive matches since 2008 on Saturday.

But the hosts have a particular interest in bucking that trend and claiming victory in an effort to assure themselves of a better IRB ranking for next month's 2015 World Cup draw.

History is certainly running against Les Bleus.

Five of Australia's eight wins in France have come from the last six appearances in Paris, with the 14-27 loss in 2004 the Wallabies' sole defeat in the French capital going back to 1993.

Success for the tourists on Saturday would match Australia's best winning sequence (of six) against France, which was achieved between 1993 and 2000 and included the 1999 World Cup final.

The last meeting in Paris saw the Wallabies run out crushing 59-16 victors, and nine of the match night squad named for Saturday featured in the corresponding match two years ago.

For France, coach Philippe Saint-Andre has plumped for mercurial Frederic Michalak at flyhalf and a number of young, inexperienced players, saying his team was now embarking on a "new era".

"There are senior players like William Servat, Lionel Nallet, Julien Bonnaire and Sebastien Chabal who have retired," the former France captain and wing said.

"Then there are Imanol Harinordoquy, Dimitri Yachvili, Thierry Dusautoir and Aurelien Rougerie out injured.

"These are guys who were used to being on the starting sheet for eight, 10 years. We must find a new generation and it's up to this generation to assert themselves."

France managed to get to the final of last year's World Cup despite being the oldest side there, with an average age above 30.

That has come down to 26, with Saint-Andre insisting that it was "necessary to bring youth in not just for now but also to head to the next World Cup".

There is an added incentive for this year's November Tests, with victories vital in a bid to get the best possible seeding for the World Cup 2015 pool allocation draw on December 3.

The IRB world rankings will be used to rank the 12 directly qualified teams for England 2015 into three bands for that draw with the sides ranked one to four in band one - and crucially avoiding each other until the knockout stages - those five to eight in band two and the remaining four in band three.

Should the draw be made today, France would be first in band two, while Australia sit second behind the All Blacks in band one.

Crucially, a win would see fifth ranked France swap with England above them, regardless of their rivals' result against Fiji at Twickenham earlier in the day.

But for Australia coach Robbie Deans, the rankings battle was not an issue.

"It's not a focal point. We understand it's in the background, the relevance and importance of it," said Deans.

Deans has handed Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu and lock Kane Douglas their first starting spots after both featured from the bench in last month's drawn Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand that halted the All Blacks' 16-Test winning run.

Other changes from the line-up that night see Rob Simmons join the bench in place of the injured Sitaleki Timani, while Berrick Barnes returns from injury to take over from Drew Mitchell as one of two backline replacements.

"The playing group are excited and they are looking forward to the game this weekend," Deans said.

"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."

Players to watch:

For France: Frederic Michalak will hold the key as playmaker in the revamped backline and he will look to create space for the explosive Wesley Fofana and the experienced Vincent Clerc out wide. New captain Pascal Pape will want to lead from the front, and if the French pack get on the front foot then the powerful Louis Picamoles will impose himself on the Wallabies defence.

For Australia: Flyhalf Kurtley Beale will provide the creative spark, but the big effort will have to come from the forward pack and skipper Nathan Sharpe will have to take the lead for players like the dynamic Michael Hooper and the physical Wycliff Palu to follow.

Head to head: The duel at flyhalf will be vital, both are exciting playmakers who can be world-beaters on their day, but their contest will probably depend on the platform laid up front. The showdown at scrum-time between French tighthead Nicolas Mas and Wallabies loosehead Benn Robinson will be intense, and in the line-outs both captains will be vying for set-piece ascendency.

Recent results:
2010: Australia won 59-16, Paris
2009: Australia won 22-6, Sydney
2008: Australia won 18-13, Paris
2008: Australia won 40-10, Brisbane
2008: Australia won 34-13, Sydney
2005: France won 26-16, Marseille

Prediction: Australia have shown good fighting spirit this year, but the French should have an advantage in the tight five which will be key and should translate into a narrow victory by a few points.

Teams:

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Vincent Clerc, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Pascal Pape (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Yoann Huget.

Australia: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Radike Samo, 21 Liam Gill, 22 Brett Sheehan, 23 Berrick Barnes.

Date: Saturday, November 10
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT; 07.00, Sunday, November 11 AEDST)
Expected weather: Overcast with 60 percent chance of showers. High of 13°C, low of 6°C - with a light southwesterly wind.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Neil Paterson (Scotland)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

rugby365 & AFP

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