Preview: France v Australia

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 08:59

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: France will aim to build on their crushing victory over Samoa with a morale-boosting win over Australia on Saturday.

Guy Noves' team stormed to a 52-8 thrashing of the Pacific Islanders last week and have seen their hopes of victory at the Stade de France boosted by a large rotation in the Wallaby team.

Australia coach Michael Cheika has made 12 changes to his side, with an eye on the Grand Slam of the Home Nations.

Will Genia, Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani retain their starting spots from last week's narrow 23-22 victory over Scotland, while David Pocock shifts to the No.7 jersey and will captain the side with usual skipper Stephen Moore named on the bench.

Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Reece Hodge, Sekope Kepu and Dane Haylett-Petty are notable absentees from the matchday squad, with four run-on debutants beside Kyle Godwin, who will his first cap in the centres.

After the France game, the Wallabies, who kicked off their tour with a 32-8 victory over Wales, go on to play Ireland and England.

The last time Australia claimed a Grand Slam was back in 1984.

Noves made five changes to his team, drafting in Jean-Marc Doussain at flyhalf in place of the injured Francois Trinh-Duc, with Camille Lopez named on the bench.

Among the forwards, Toulon's Charles Ollivon replaces the injured Loann Goujon at blindside flank, while Sebastien Vahaamahina starts at lock alongside Yoann Maestri after putting in an impressive cameo performance off the bench against the Samoans. No.8 Louis Picamoles and openside Kevin Gourdan both start after having been rested in the week.

Cyrille Baille gets his first run-on for the Tricolours at loosehead prop alongside hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado and New Zealand-born tighthead Uini Atonio.

The two teams share one particularity: they will both field a set of Fijian-born wings.

Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa start for France against former compatriots Sefanaia Naivalu and Henry Speight, with Taqele Naiyaravoro also named on the Wallaby bench.

And Noves went on the defensive when quizzed about the Fijians in his team.

"What concerns me is whether a player is eligible for selection. I'll pick him if he deserves it," the former long-time Toulouse coach said, deflecting talk of deficiencies in the national structure.

"You'd need two hours to speak about the future of French rugby. I can but I don't know if you have enough time. It's not a question of the reserve [of wings]. They are French for me.

"Whether they're white, grey or black, these are the men who will put on a jersey and defend a nation because they have been welcomed [in France]..."

Wallabies' Cheika said he felt the time was right for a reshuffle in his team to give the next generation a chance of a run-out.

"It's the right time to let a guy prepare as a starter," said Cheika, who resoundingly pads off any talk about the Grand Slam.

"Sometimes on the finishers, it's hard to know what you're going to get because you don't know when you're going to go on, it's hard to prepare."

Players to watch:

For France: You want to look for the skill and guile of the centre pairing - Remi Lamerat and Wesley Fofana, but also flyhalf Jean-Marc Doussain - who will have a key role to play in the absence of first-choice No.10François Trinh-Duc. Louis Picamoles, when on form, is also a joy to behold.

For Australia: So many changes, so many new faces. Top of that list is centre Kyle Godwin, who is making his long-awaited debut. Quade Cooper reunites with Will Genia, while David Pocock captains the side. They all have big statements to make.

Head to head: Like any game, there are interesting face-offs right across the field. This game, however, has the unique situation in that it features four Fijian wings - Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa (for France) against Sefanaia Naivalu and Henry Speight (for Australia). The powerful running and finishing ability of that quartet are worth the entry fee by itself.

Recent results:
2014: France won 29-26, Paris
2014: Australia won 39-13, Sydney
2014: Australia won 6-0, Melbourne
2014: Australia won 50-23, Brisbane
2012: France won 33-6, Paris
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

Predictions: This is not a game that you can predict with any measure of confidence. Even bookmakers are having trouble separating the teams. We suspect France may have one of their better days and sneak a win - by less than 10 points.


France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jean-Marc Doussain, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Charles Ollivon, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1  Cyrille Baille
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Gael Fickou.

Australia: 15. Luke Morahan, 14 Sefanaia Naivalu, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 David Pocock (captain), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 James Slipper.    
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Dean Mumm, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.


Date: Saturday, November 19
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT; 06.00 Sunday, November 20 AEDT)
Expected weather: Heavy clouds with a chance of rain. High of 10° and a low of 6°
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Greg Garner (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Agence France-Presse & rugby365com