Australia vs. France: 5 Key Battles for Melbourne Test
France enter the second Test of their Australian tour hoping the only way is up.
Their dire performance in last week’s 50-23 beating in Brisbane has prompted a deluge of criticism, and coach Philippe Saint-Andre has reacted by ringing the changes ahead of the second clash in Melbourne.
Neutral observers will be hoping to see more of a contest in this second clash, and these key battles could provide us with just that.
1. The Front Row
Australia battered France up front in the first Test—so much so that Philippe Saint-Andre has blamed his two props, the infusion of foreign props in the Top 14, and replaced them with two far less experienced men for the second encounter.
ESPN Scrum reported on Saint-Andre’s interview with the AAP:
We don't have too many props in France because they're all foreigners so we need to [expose them]. If we don't try out some props in a tour 15 months from the World Cup, we'll never try them. This is an opportunity to see them in a fantastic contest.
As a result, it’s out with Thomas Domingo and Nicolas Mas and over to the seven-cap Rabah Slimani and debutant Alexandre Menini to turn the scrum battle in their favour.
It is some sea change, as ESPN Scrum commented:
The rugby world has turned upside down: Australia, with its infamous history of scrum woes, have forced France - who fete their props like heroes - into drastic front-row changes for the second Test at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Powerful and crafty scrummaging props are as French as croissants; it's their bread and butter. But France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has lamented the dearth of quality front-rowers in his country following their 50-23 pounding by the Wallabies in the opening Test.
2. Bastareaud vs. Kuridrani
France at least now have a full roster to pick from, with the Top 14 finalists available for selection.
This means Toulon tank Mathieu Bastareaud will wedge himself back into the outside centre position, where he will face one of the most promising midfielders in the game.
Tevita Kuridrani has impressed since making his Wallabies bow, with speed, handling and power. Bastareaud may not have the deftest of hands—he hardly ever uses them to pass, so we will never know—but he can barrel through most men.
Kuridrani can expect to be occupied by the Frenchman’s more direct style in Melbourne.
Former Australia captain Stirling Mortlock told Planet Rugby:
He's one of the most physically dominant gain-line yardage makers in world rugby...and with Wesley Fofana at inside-centre they will be a totally different midfield and a significantly tougher job to mark.
They (France) will be looking to feed off his (Bastareaud's) ascendency through the midfield.
It's a tough task for our midfield defensively but hopefully we don't give him too much time and space.
3. Dusautoir vs. Hooper
France have sorely missed captain and talisman Thierry Dusautoir. That was evident in the Six Nations after somehow fumbling their way into contention to win it without him.
Dusautoir provides a focal point for the side and can stop them falling apart as they did last week. He is up against the man who assumes the Australian captaincy in Michael Hooper.
The No. 7 was outstanding last weekend but the breakdown will be a far closer contest with the Toulouse man on the field. This should be a classic battle between two genuine No. 7s.
4. Foley vs. Tales
Bernard Foley had something of an armchair introduction to life as the Wallabies No. 10. There was little pressure on the Waratahs man in Brisbane, so lacklustre were the French in every department.
However, he faces a more motivated opponent in the opposing fly-half slot this weekend in the shape of Remi Tales.
The Castres man seems most capable of getting his back line attacking flat and posing a threat. You would think with inside runners like Yannick Nyanga and the hugely talented Wesley Fofana outside him, Tales can give Foley plenty to think about from a defensive perspective.
Foley must show that, with significantly more pressure on him than last week, he can still orchestrate his back line and bring his danger men into play.
5. Folau vs. Dulin
Israel Folau enjoyed the freedom of Laing Park last weekend, but you would expect him to be given a run for his money in the counter-attacking stakes by Brice Dulin in Melbourne.
The French full-back was one of their best players in the Six Nations, not far behind Mike Brown as the best running No. 15 in the tournament.
He loves to have a go from deep and chooses his options well. Folau may have to employ a bit more of the old grey matter to deal with the threat of Dulin.
Whether the Frenchman can play well enough to thwart the Wallaby’s multifaceted threat is another matter.