The Wallabies will be looking to make it three tour victories on the trot when they take on the French this Saturday evening.
Michael Cheika’s men are starting to recapture some of their 2015 form that saw them to a Rugby Championship victory as well as a runners-up spot at lats year's World Cup. While their performance against Scotland was far from flawless, the boys in gold would have taken a lot of heart from the manner in which they fought back to win the game. Their opposition also managed a victory last week albeit over a Samoan side that was so devoid of ideas they make the Springboks look like a cutting edge attacking unit.
So will the Wallabies make it three wins on the trot or will the French, in typical French fashion, upset the applecart?
France v Australia | Saturday 19 November | Stade de France | 22:00
To Win (80 Mins)
France 8/10 | Draw 20/1 | Australia 21/20
France | Australia *Handicap to be added upon release
Guy Noves seems to be doing the impossible and getting some consistency from a French rugby side. Les Bleu have gone a whole eight months without losing a game they were expected to win. This is quite the achievement for a side that has traditionally struggled to string results together.
Key to Noves’ positive start as head coach has been the return to form of stalwarts Wesley Fofana and Luis Picamoles. The duo were in immaculate touch against Samoa with Picamoles gaining a plethora of metres with his strong carrying and Fofana shutting down the Samoan backline with some abrasive tackles.
Another man who really made a mark last week was Sevens convert Virimi Vakatawa. The Fijian-born Vakatawa ran in three tries and looked a huge threat whenever he got his hands on the ball. His electric pace and ability to out step even the wiliest of defenders will be vital to the French cause this Saturday.
While Vakatwa is almost guaranteed a start after last weekend’s heroics, a few of the men who ran out against Samoa may not retain their starting berths as Guy Noves has called up five players to his squad. Clermont flyhalf Camile Lopez is one of the men called up and I think he’ll get the start here. The Clermont man has been in great touch during his side’s start to the Top 14 season. He brings a different dynamic to the side with his mercurial passing game and ability to put his outside backs into space.
Further changes to the French starting line-up are likely to see Gael Fickou come into the centres to partner Wesley Fofana. Fickou is an immense talent with a blistering turn of pace. The Toulouse man may well cause problems for heavyweight Australian centre Tevita Kuridrani.
They weren’t at their best but the Wallabies still managed to get the job done against a fired-up Scottish outfit at Murrayfield last week. Trailing by six points with only five minutes of the remaining, the Wallabies looked destined to lose.
A moment of magic from centre Tevita Khundrani would spare Australian blushes, however, as the Brumbies man brushed aside the two Scottish centres, rode a tackle from Thistles fullback Stuart Hogg, and then went all inspector gadget on the Murrayfield crowd with one of the longest stretches for a try line the rugby world has ever witnessed. And while the referred the decision to the TMO, it was plain to see, on second viewing, that the Brumbies man had full control of the ball when he dotted down. Flyhalf Bernard Foley stepped up and knocked the conversion over from close range to hand Australia their second consecutive one-point victory over the Scots.
While last week’s showing was by no means vintage, it will have instilled a lot of heart in this Australian side and particularly their forward pack. The Aussie heavies were given a right mauling – pun intended – by the All Blacks and Argentines during the Rugby Championship. The frailty that was most exposed during the Championship was the Australian lineout, which was about as effective as an Allister Coetzee's game plan
The Wallabies seem to have put those lineout woes to bed with Stephen Moore finding his jumpers on 14 of his 16 feeds. While that is by no means flawless, it is a lot better than the 10 from 14 he threw in their Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand.
I cite the Australia line out as it’s an area where I think they may actually get some dominance over the French. Les Bleus struggled against the English and Irish lineouts during the Six Nations. The French pack is ill-equipped to handle a solid lineout maul with the majority of their pack taking up absurdly high body positions. And while Noves and his backroom staff will have attempted to rectify this over the summer, It still could prove to be an Achilles heel for the hosts.
Verdict: Australia 21/20
The betting has swung dramatically for this one with Australia opening up as favourites and then dropping off to 21/20 for the win. I will be having my biggest strike on the weekend on a Wallabies victory!