Rugby fans are hoping and praying that these two remember to put on their attacking boots after boring us to tears in Melbourne. Neither side showed any ambition or courage to win the match, both content to play field position and wait to take points via mistakes. It made for dreadful viewing, and the anticipation for this match, a test of two perennial top-5 contenders, is at an all-time low.
Only minor adjustments have been made by each this week. The biggest, figuratively and literally speaking, is the inclusion of Willie Skelton in the Wallaby second row. The giant Waratah has been on the radar since impressing against the Lions last July, and now makes his much-anticipated debut in the gold jersey. His improvement over the course of the Super Rugby season has been noted, and it’s his ability to handle the pace and pressure of a test match that will be under the microscope.
Skelton’s inclusion means James Horwill is pushed back to the bench, so too Ben McCalman, who returns to reserve duty with the addition of Wycliff Palu to the starting lineup. Palu was a bit quiet a couple weeks ago and is almost always struggling to be fully fit, so he’ll need to make an impact this go around or he could find himself left out altogether pretty soon. Elsewhere on the bench Scott Sio takes Pek Cowan’s backup loosehead spot, and Rob Horne fills in for Pat McCabe, injured yet again, this time suffering from nerve damage to a shoulder.
Philippe Saint-André has also made two changes to his side. Fulgence Ouedraogo takes over from Yannick Nyanga on the flank, and Hugo Bonneval replaces Maxime Médard on the troublesome left wing position. Antoine Burban drops out of the side to make room for Nyanga on the bench, and gone too are Brice Mach, Thomas Domingo, and Freddie Michalak, with their spots handed to Christopher Tolofua, Vincent Debaty, and Maxime Machenaud respectively.
Who knows what will happen in this match? The first two were such polar opposites, though to be fair the French made wholesale changes for the second. Unfortunately that suggests that the third might more closely resemble Melbourne than Brisbane, but surely the French will make up for being compeltely shut out. If such a backlash does occur, expect the Wallabies to match fire with fire, and be up for the match. Either way it’s impossible not to lean towards the home side sweeping the series, likely to the tune of around 7 points. As long as there’s rugby played does anyone really care? In Sydney we trust…
AUSTRALIA vs FRANCE
Saturday, June 21, 10:00 GMT, Sydney
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZRU)
Assistants: Wayne Barnes (RFU) & George Clancy (IRFU)
TMO: Ben Skeen (NZRU)