Les Bleus take on the Wallabies for the fourth time this year, but thankfully France has chopped and changed half the team to give it a fresh coat of paint. Australia won all three of the tests in June, two in sizeable fashion and one, well, let’s just agree not to talk about the one sandwiched in the middle. France would like to claim that they are a different side at home, but that wouldn’t entirely be true given the severe beating they took in Paris as recently as 2010. What exactly the fans will get on Saturday is anyone’s guess.
Not a single change in the French run-on side has been made this week, an amazing feat that should spark some confidence in their chances. Two switches are made among the reserves, with Sébastien Vaha’amahina replacing Alexandre Flanquart, and Yannick Nyanga returning to fitness to take the spot of Charles Ollivon. Heavyweights Uini Atonio and Mathieu Bastareaud remain on call to do rattle some bones as impact substitutions.
Michael Cheika has also stayed true to his men, making only one change in the second row where James Horwill reunites with Reds teammate Rob Simmons, ousting Sam Carter from the squad completely. Will Skelton provides lock cover from the bench. The reserves return to a conventional 4-3 split this week, with Quade Cooper added in place of the extra forward.
When the two sides last met in Paris, in 2012, the French scrum absolutely savaged the Wallaby pack, resulting in a convincing win for Les Bleus. This group struggled to get an edge on Fiji a week ago, so it’s unlikely they’ll be as influential this time. The French lineout also ran into some difficulties against Leone Nakarawa, and it should be hotly contested by Simmons to try and disrupt the highly effective French rolling maul, though perhaps a page out of the Irish book of tricks might also come in handy.
Out wide the dynamic duo of Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau should cause plenty of confusion, though France have a couple game breakers of their own in Wesley Fofana and hat trick hero Teddy Thomas. That side that gets the ball to those strike runners the quickest is most likely to win. Look for Australia to succeed and wrap up yet another win against Les Bleus by around 5 points. Then again, anything can happen on a cloudy day in Paris.
FRANCE vs AUSTRALIA
Saturday, November 15, 20:00 GMT, Paris
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistants: Wayne Barnes (RFU) & Marius Mitrea (FIR)
TMO: Graham Hughes (RFU)