Australia V France: 5 Key Battles for Sydney Test
A curious test series comes to an end in Sydney this weekend. France barely showed up in Brisbane where they were drubbed 50-23.
A week later in Melbourne, a shocker of a contest saw Australia squeak home by two penalties to nil while Philippe Saint-Andre’s men at least showed they hadn’t forgotten how to defend all together.
So guessing what sort of game we will get on Saturday is a total shot in the dark.
France at least have history on their side. They have never been whitewashed 3-0 by Australia, as ESPNScrum.com point out.
France and Australia have only contested one three-Test series previously, when now-coach Ewen McKenzie's Wallabies prevailed 2-1 on home soil in 1990. On that occasion, France avoided a series whitewash by winning the final Test in Sydney 28-19.
Here are the key battles that will have to go their way to make sure they don’t break new, unwanted territory in 2014.
1. Scott Fardy vs Thierry Dusautoir
The French captain has been shifted across the back row to make room for Fulgence Ouedraogo as Yannick Nyanga drops to the bench.
Dusautoir comes up against the in-form Scott Fardy in the green and gold No. 6 jersey.
Fardy likes to get stuck in at the breakdown and it will be Dusautoir’s job to get the better of the Brumbies man in that key area.
The energy and dynamism of Ouedraogo means he will be the one expected to link play and create havoc running off his fly-half’s shoulder, leaving Dusautoir to do the heavy lifting when it comes to securing fast ball for France.
2. Nic White vs Morgan Parra
Last week’s game saw Australia kick an awful lot of ball away as France looked to blot out the space that had allowed the home side to run so freely in the first test.
The French, more than most nations, have no problem asking their No. 9 to shoulder a lot of the tactical kicking responsibility, and in Morgan Parra they have a player comfortable with that job.
He should, with his experience, be better than Nic White at this part of the game.
If he can hem the Wallabies back with accurate kicking and also disrupt White’s service to Bernard Foley, Australia’s dangerous backs will pose a lesser threat.
3. Will Skelton vs Yoann Maestri
The talk down under this week has been about the New Zealand-born Skelton, who makes his debut in the second row.
He is a huge man, but Wallabies coah Ewen McKenzie told the Sydney Morning Herald his other attributes are what make him special:
Everyone obviously talks about his size, but I have been more impressed with his skill touches, the ability to know when to take the line on, when to pass and create opportunities for others.
He will meet another giant in the shape of Yoann Maestri, whose industry with ball in hand and at the breakdown makes him a key man for France this week against the superior mobility possessed by the home pack.
Skelton will be looking to make an impact on his Test bow. Maestri will be looking to snuff him out.
4. Matt Toomua vs Wesley Fofana
Toomua has arguably been the best back for the hosts in this series.
His kicking from hand has unlocked the French defence on more than one occasion and his distribution has been first class.
He faces a man with every attribute you want from a No. 12, but Wesley Fofana has shown very little by way of his enormous talent in this series.
Keeping the Clermont man quiet for three straight Tests will be some feat.
5. Tevita Kuridrani vs Mathieu Bastareaud
Both these players are key to their sides’ try-scoring hopes.
Kuridrani can escape into the outside channel with his pace and power, and he can also hold two defenders before offloading to the likes of Israel Folau.
Bastareaud is the man France look to establish a platform beyond the defensive line with his powerful, direct running.
It should be quite some contest to see which man can impose his remit on the other.