JOHANNESBURG – Clashes between the Springboks and France are fiery at the best of times, but today’s meeting in Paris could be at an altogether different level.
There will be needle aplenty following the shock victory in the week by France – over South Africa, who were named the “preferred candidate” two weeks ago – to host the 2023 World Cup.
Coach Allister Coetzee has played down the outcome, suggesting it won’t play a role today, but you can be sure the Boks will be as fired up as the French to show just who is boss, and more deserving of those hosting rights in six years’ time.
But the outcome of the 2023 vote will only be one motivating factor of what transpires today.
The biggest factor will be that both the hosts and the Boks are desperate to win after poor showings last weekend – the Boks against Ireland and France against the All Blacks – while reputations of coaches and players alike are on the line.
Coetzee’s team have only won once in 10 outings overseas since he took over in June last year, while France are staring at a fifth defeat in a row if they don’t get up and win today, something the locals in Paris have said would be a “crisis”.
What would also be deemed a crisis is if the Boks were to lose again today, too.
Unfortunately even a win would hardly be seen in a positive light, not after the Boks went down 38-3 a week ago; mainly because South Africa are expected to beat France, and especially this current French team.
Added to that, the Boks’ 3-0 series win in June suggests the hosts today will be pushovers, but they won’t be.
This is a very changed French team from June and they showed against the All Blacks a week ago they have something about them that should make their fans excited.
The Boks, on the other hand, have shown no such thing, and that’s one of the reasons why fans should be careful about thinking this will be the Boks’ day.
Besides the enormous pressure that is all of a sudden on the players and coaching team, various questions need to be answered by Eben Etzebeth’s crew today – but by the coaching team as well.
Coetzee has backed several players who need to repay the faith shown in them and show they are good enough to play international rugby.
It is not the coaching team who have to execute between the four white lines, but the players. It is, however, the coaching team who plan the style to be adopted – and in Dublin they got it wrong, even if the players didn’t execute it properly.
What will Coetzee and Co decide for this evening’s match; more up-and-unders, keeping it tight and among the pack, or running from all parts?
New picks this week, No 8 Duane Vermeulen and flyhalf Handré Pollard, have huge roles to play, but so too Francois Venter at No 12, who’ll be asked to run hard and straight at the gain-line and put players on his outside and inside into space.
Ross Cronjé, at scrumhalf, also needs a big game, and so too the back-three who flopped against Ireland.
The Boks owe South African rugby fans a big performance.
They let their country down a week ago – something that has happened too often in the last two years – and another poor effort against a young and inexperienced French team won’t be tolerated.
The coaches and players have 80 minutes to prevent this November tour again turning into a nightmare for South African rugby.
Teams For Paris
France: 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Mathieu Bastareaud, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillgues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Bench: 16 Clement Maynardier, 17 Sebastien Taofifenua, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Paul Jedreasiak, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Damian Penaud.
Springboks: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian de Allende.
Kickoff: 9.45pm (SA time). Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).