Preview: South Africa v France

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 07:27

LET THE TEST BEGIN: Paul Dobson, in his unique way, looks towards the first Test between the Springboks and France at Loftus Versfeld. 

It is the first Test of a three-Test series, on home soil, at Loftus where support has traditionally been unequivocal.

The media have been running stories, historical, speculative, factual and personal during the week. There is a new captain, one with enthusiasm, an honourable man of good manners and proven success. 

The opponents are clearly worthy. After all, they lead South Africa 6-4 with a draw in 11 matches this century. 

Put all that into the mix, and still, it stays dull dough.

There was no excitement in the build-up to the team announcement and there is the lingering fear that Loftus will again come up with just the same small group of spectators who stayed loyal in Super Rugby matches this year.

There is the cloying effect of so much Test rugby and the drab disappointment of last year's Springboks.

Furthermore, are these the best teams each country can choose? If so, where are the heroes, the exciting players? The most capped Springbok back is Jan Serfointein who is 23. After Tendai Mtawarira the next most capped forward is Eben Etzebeth, who is 25. And amongst the French who should be recognisable heroes in the busy world of rugby football?  The only players still in the team from France's last match are Brice Dulin, creative Gaël Fickou, Fijian Virimi Vakatawa, Yoann Maestri and Louis Picamoles. They are recognisable and so is strong Yoann Huguet on the right wing. 

But as you start picking out the names, interest picks up.

Perhaps this will be the day when the French recover their long-dead flair. Perhaps this will be the day when Springboks lift their heads and play with energy and confidence again. Perhaps Warren Whitely and big Yoann Maestri can lift rugby to exciting old heights.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: Amongst the Springboks there are two eminently watchable players that would thrive on space and opportunity - both men of energy, courage, speed, vision and flare and both new caps - fullback Andries Coetzee from Bethal and left wing Courtnall Skosan from Brackenfell. Then there is brave, adventurous Ross Cronje at scrumhalf, a rarity in South African rugby - a scrumhalf who does not cannibalise his backs' space. In the forwards, there is Malcolm Marx who could be setting out on a glorious career, lively Franco Mostert and the most sincere of leaders, Warren Whitely. It's not an accident that all of those are Lions, not when the rules of selection have a strong 'outside' influence.

For France: You would love to see the smooth, scything skills of Brice Dulin, the power of Huguet, clever and strong Fickou in France's backline and Maestri and Picamoles in its pack. There are certainly players to watch, players who could excite.

Head to head: As it so often does, it starts with Pack against Pack. Both teams will be aware of this and it's hard to see men like Etzebeth, Maestri, Picamoles and Whitely stepping back from confrontation, and their men will be with them. The Springboks seem to have greater experience and strength. But then the French front row do not look like shrinking violets. All three are big but the Samoan New Zealander at tighthead, Uini Atonio, is the biggest of all and may trouble the ageing Beast.

There may well be confrontational battles between smiling Eben Etzebeth and unyielding Yoann Maestri. The most intriguing battle may well be by the men furthest apart - Andries Coetzee and Brice Dulin - both players with an eager instinct to attack, and the speed and elusiveness to make it count.

Results this Century:
2001: France won 20-10 at Stade de France
2001: France won 32-23 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
2001: South Africa won 20-15 at Kings Park Stadium, Durban
2002: France won 30-10 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
2005: Draw 30-30 at Kings Park Stadium, Durban
2005: France won 26-20 at Stade de France
2005: South Africa won 27-13 at Boet Erasmus, Port Elizabeth
2006: France won 36-26 at Newlands
2009: France won 20-13 at Stade Municipal, Toulouse
2010: South Africa won 42-17 at Newlands
2013: South Africa won 19-10 at Stade de France

Prediction: It is hard to know whether it is just hope talking or just habit talking but I predict a Springbok victory by 15 points.

South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Francois Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huguet, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Louis Picamoles, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Yoann Maestri (captain), 4 Julien le Devedec, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Clément Maynadier, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Kevin Gourdon, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Vincent Rattez.

Date: Saturday, 10 June 2017
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Expected weather conditions: Partly cloudy without any rain, a high of 18°C and a low of 6°C.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

By Paul Dobson