JOHANNESBURG - Two of Les Bleus’ more experienced backs, believe the Springboks will be a very dangerous beast when the teams meet in the first of three Tests at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
Allister Coetzee’s side go into this season on the back of a disastrous 2016, where they won just four Tests out of the 12 they played. The coach just managed to hang on to his job, but he has roped in new assistants in Brendan Venter and Franco Smith to help turn the team’s fortunes around, while Warren Whiteley of the Lions has been named new captain.
Wing Yoann Huget, who has played 47 Tests, believes Coetzee’s team will be hungry for a victory.
“South Africa are not used to losing so often, like they did last year, so I think they’ll be a very dangerous team,” said the 30-year-old ahead of the Test.
“They’ve also made some additions to their support staff which will boost them, but to be honest I’m not too concerned about the Boks and the situation they find themselves.”
Centre Gael Fikou (23), one of the rising stars of French rugby and a man who’s already notched up 29 Tests, agreed with his teammate. “They’re still a good team and with so many younger players in the squad now, they’ll be a dangerous side.
“And let’s not forget, rugby is like a religion in South Africa much more than it is in France, so we respect the Boks and the way they go about what they do.”
Neither men would have faced the likes of a possible Bok starting backline consisting of Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Raymond Rhule and Andries Coetzee before but Huget and Fikou are not too perturbed.
“I’ve seen them play before so I know what to expect,” said Huget, while Fikou added, “I know a few of them, they’ll be strong and dangerous.”
The French team’s biggest challenge may come in playing on the highveld after their long season in Europe and not being used to the speed of the game among the Southern Hemisphere teams.
“Yes, there is a big difference,” said Huget, who’s turned out for Toulouse since 2012. “The rucks are quicker, and the game is generally much faster. So, it’s going to be a good test for us after a long season, especially for the younger players who’ve come on tour.”
French coach Guy Noves, who only arrived in South Africa on Tuesday, along with six players who were involved in Sunday’s Top 14 final between Toulon and Clermont, will name his team on Thursday. Both Huget and Fikou, who were part of France’s Six Nations run are expected to be named in the starting XV.