PREVIEW: France v South Africa
NOVEMBER INTERNATIONAL SEASON: For the second week South Africa will face one of the other contestants for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Last Saturday it was Ireland before the vote and this Saturday it will be France who won the "transparent" secret ballot, to the intense disappointment of the whole of South Africa.
In Ireland, a rugby match was allowed to be played in its own right, suffering in no way, it seems, from the manoeuvres of officials. It is devoutly to be hoped that the same will happen in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis this Saturday, and that triumph and disappointment will play no part in the mood of the match. The match will be tough enough without pouring any fuel on it.
Before we look forward to the match, let's look back.
This is the 43rd match between the two countries. Six have been drawn, South Africa won 25, France 11. Both sides have similar home-and-away records. Of South Africa's 25 wins, 12 have been away; of France's 11 wins, five have been away. France's win in 1958 meant South Africa's first series loss at home since 1896, and France won the two-Test series without scoring a try.
But, as the French say, revenons a nos moutons, and the matter at hand is Saturday's match.
Remarkably it will be the fourth match between the two countries this year. The first three were in South Africa and the Springboks won them by 23, 22 and 23 points. And that may have no bearing on this match.
Only six of the French side that started against the South Africa at Ellis Park in June will start again now - Nans Ducuing, who shifts from right wing to fullback, Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Rabah Slimani, captain Guilhelm Guirado and Jefferson Poirot. Two more are on the bench this time - Damian Penaud and Baptiste Serin. The only one still on the bench is hooker Clément Maynadier of Bordeaux Bègles.
But then the Springboks are not wholly intact either. Seven of the June starters are starting again - Andries Coetzee, Jesse Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx and Tendai Mtawarira, while Dillyn Leyds is moving up from the bench to the starting team while Elton Jantjies and Francois Mostert go in the other direction. Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff and Rudy Paige are back on the bench.
France have the same team that fought back so well in their defeat at the hands of New Zealand last week, whereas South Africa have four changes to their ineffective starting team of last week.
After the horrors of 2016, the three victories over France promised a new dawn. It was a false hope, for this year they have had record defeats against New Zealand and, just last week, Ireland. Still they followed their 0-57 loss to New Zealand with an unlucky one-point defeat in the return match. Will they surprise all Frenchmen and all South Africans on Saturday night in the Paris cold?
Players to Watch:
For France: France have a new scrumhalf, a lively Faf de Klerk of a man - Antoine Dupont, a zestful 21-year-old who plays for Toulouse. You will see a lot of him.
On the right wing is Biarritz-born Teddy Thomas who does remarkable things to score tries, as he did with a swanky dive against New Zealand last Saturday in his first Test since 2014.
For South Africa: On the South African side, interest may well focus on returnee Duane Vermeulen, once expected to captain the Springboks but went off to Toulon instead. Then Elton Jantjies drops to the bench and back from injury comes Handré Pollard, four years younger than Jantjies but having played two Tests more. Much will be expected of Pollard, as it has been since he was a schoolboy.
Head to Head: Unyielding strong man against unyielding strong man - Louis Picamoles against Duane Vermeulen. That could be a great clash. Young flyhalf against even younger flyhalf - Handré Pollard against Anthony Belleau with experience on Pollard's side for Belleau has just last week's cap to his credit. Pollard is bigger and stronger and could dominate the man from Toulon. Tight forwards against tight forwards. France have the same front row they had in June. South Africa have two of the three. The new man is strong Wilco Louw. In that June Tests there were nine scrums which produced six penalties, three to each side. Louw will produce greater stability. The line-outs were much of a muchness in June, each side taking two of the opponents' throws. In the centres there could be an interesting confrontation between fleet-footed Francois Venter and prop-like Mathieu Bastareaud. Goal-kicker against goal-kicker. Pollard is a good bet, though Belleau has scored many points for Toulon in his short time at the top. Bench against Bench. This time the French seem to have the more trenchant bench, especially in their three backs.
Results this Century:
2001: France won 32-23 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
2001: South Africa won 20-15 at Kings Park Stadium, Durban
2001: France won 20-10 at Stade de France, Paris
2002: France won 30-10 in Marseille
2005: Draw 30-30 at Kings Park Stadium, Durban
2005: South Africa won 27-13 at Boet Erasmus, Port Elizabeth
2005: France won 26-20 at Stade de France, Paris
2006: France won 36-26 at Newlands
2009: France won 20-13 in Toulouse
2010: South Africa won 42-17 at Newlands
2013: South Africa won 19-10 at Stade de France, Paris
2017: South Africa won 37-14 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
2017: South Africa won 37-15 at Kings Park Stadium, Durban
2017: South Africa won 35-12 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Prediction: It depends whether this is the 57-0 Springbok side or the 25-24 team. If the latter they could well beat France but then are just as likely to lose by lots. It's just so hard to see how they are going to score points, other than from Pollard's boot, but if the French take a leaf out of the Irish gameplan and play to their right, South Africa's left, they are likely to score points. The object of the game is to score points, "the team scoring the greater number of points being the winner of the match", say the Laws of the Game. That side could well be France by ten points or more. And if that happens it will end a black week in South African rugby, perhaps the blackest of all time.
France: 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Mathieu Bastareaud, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Sébastien Taofifénua, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Damian Penaud.
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian de Allende.
Date: Saturday, November 18
Kick-off: 20.45 (19.45 GMT; 21.45 SA time}
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Expected weather conditions: Partly cloudy with a high of 10°C, dropping to 6°C, as winter gets closer.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
By Paul Dobson