Paris power play
Fri, 22 Nov 2013 11:33
If we lose we will once again be under pressure
France are bracing themselves for a physical battle when they face South Africa in Paris on Saturday.
The Springboks come into the match at the Stade de France having never beaten their hosts in that stadium but having only been bettered in terms of form in 2013 by world champions New Zealand.
South Africa have won nine out of 11 tests this calendar year and, including last November's internationals, have triumphed in 12 out of their last 14.
But having run the All Blacks close two weeks ago in a 19-26 reverse, France are feeling confident in their capacity to build on last week's 38-18 success over Tonga.
"It's our last match of the year. We're aware that if we put in a good performance it will have been a successful test series whereas if we lose we will once again be under pressure," said former captain and lock Pascal Pape.
"There's a lot of pressure on us but it's not necessarily negative."
France have nonetheless suffered a miserable year results-wise. The Tonga success in Le Havre was only their second win in 10 matches in 2013 but Pape believes their confidence is coming back.
"There's lots of things that are better, that's for sure," he added.
"Against Tonga we won and that was the priority but that's not a reference for success.
"On Saturday we have the possibility to finish the November series in the best possible way by beating the second-best team in the world. And we know that whatever happens, they're heavyweights, very physical, it will be a huge battle."
For France, this season has seen them beat only Scotland and Tonga, ranked ninth and 12th in the world, and draw with seventh-placed Ireland.
They have lost four times to top-ranked New Zealand while also failing against England (third), Wales (sixth) and Italy (11th).
It is hardly the sequence to instill confidence in a team and yet they have beaten South Africa on the Springboks' last two visits to Paris.
Pape admits it's hard to explain.
"I don't know... It's a little bit a part of the culture," he said.
"Every time we play against supposedly stronger countries, we perform better.
"Subconsciously, these are teams where you know it's going to be hard. Sometimes playing with fear allows you to surpass yourselves."
South Africa's forward charge is being masterminded by former France international Pieter de Villiers.
The 41-year-old former prop knows all about French scrummaging having spent 14 years at Stade Francais while representing Les Bleus on 69 occasions.
And now he is planning the French pack's downfall as forwards coach for South Africa, the land of his birth.
"France was a great scrummaging school for me," said De Villiers.
"What's vital is to say that every scrum is important, every scrum is different and every time you have to start from zero again.
"I saw and experienced a lot of that in France.
"It's going to be a rough battle, France have got huge pride in their pack but we've also worked hard and made a lot of progress."
While the main challenge may be up front, France have made an interesting selection in the backline where Perpignan wing Sofiane Guitoune keeps his place ahead of Maxime Medard, having scored on his debut against Tonga.
Otherwise coach Philippe Saint-Andre has plumped for the same side that kept the All Blacks honest.
It means Morgan Parra and Remi Tales will start as the half-back pairing for the third match in a row, only the second time Saint-Andre has kept that crucial pairing for such a long period.
For their part South Africa have welcomed back Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth and Morné Steyn to the team that crunched Scotland 28-0 last week.
South Africa have won 21 of 38 tests against France with Les Bleus claiming 11 victories and six matches ending in draws.
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