JOHANNESBURG – Typical of France and doing things the unconventional way, they rolled into Johannesburg under the radar on an afternoon flight on Wednesday and they have already offered their lot of excuses on why they will be the underdogs going into the three Test series against the Springboks.
Although true that the French team that arrived this week is a somewhat watered down version of the true might of the side with many of their top players involved in Sunday’s Top 14 final between Clermont and Toulon, they will still pose a threat to the Springboks with many of their unknown players.
French captain Guilhem Guirado along with Xavier Chiocci, Arthur Iturria, Camille Lopez, Damian Penaud, Romain Taofifenua and South African-born fullback Scott Spedding will only arrive in the country on Tuesday, as will Springbok eighthman Duane Vermeulen, and all are likely to sit out the first Test at Loftus Versfeld next weekend.
With their top brass likely to be out of action, France forwards coach Yannick Bru has talked up the hosts and even went as far as warning his players of the imminent danger on the horizon as they will come face-to-face with a wounded Springbok side at home.
Bru, who made his international debut against the Springboks in 2001, says they won’t be falling into the trap of thinking that the Springboks are vulnerable after their disastrous season last year and expects the same old physical battle that the South Africans were once renowned for.
Bru also cited the unfamiliarity of the conditions for many of the players emphasizing the altitude factor as another which they will have to battle against in the first and third Test matches.
“I think it is never a good time to play the Springboks at home. We expect a very physical team and we know they are in the middle of the season so they will be competitive physically,” Bru said.
“The conditions with the altitude will be different from what we are used to in France so we will have to adapt to that. We remain outsiders for the first Test.
“We know the Springboks had a difficult season last year but they have made a couple of changes and have recalled a few European based players, so we expect a very tough and physical game. We have a lot of ambition but we also have a lot of humility. We know what we need to do to be amongst the best teams in the world and we know where we are coming from.”
Bru underplayed any suggestions that they would be challenging the Springboks at winning the series and said that their focus is on building from their third place finish in the Six Nations and ensuring they have a formidable squad going into the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
But they will still have some ambition of pulling off a rabbit-out-of-the-hat performance or two.
“We are focusing on the way we want to play and the improvement in our performance from the Six Nations,” Bru said.
“We know we have to work on our efficiency from the Six Nations, we have a lot of possession and create many opportunities but we are poor when it comes to execution.
“We are not speaking too much about the Springboks but we are concentrating on our performance and building the best team towards the World Cup.
“This is an exciting challenge and the players are ready to step up but we will see in the first Test as our preparations are not perfect with the players missing. We will give ourselves a chance with humility.”