June Test Series: South Africa v France Preview


Shaun Goosen previews the upcoming June International Series between South Africa and France.  

Having viewed a series of heterogeneous displays from South Africa’s Super Rugby challenge over the preceding few months, it is now time to turn our attention to the June International Test window which commences in a few short weeks’ time.

The Springboks will host the French for the first time since 2010, in three Test matches to be played at Loftus Versfeld, Growthpoint Kings Park and Emirates Airlines Park respectively. After a disastrous 2016 campaign that saw the Boks record just four wins from 12 Test matches, coach, Allister Coetzee has been given this upcoming series as a final chance to prove that he actually has something valuable to offer SA Rugby – the pressure is very much on.

Meanwhile, Guy Novès’ French outfit will look to end off their European season on the highest possible note, after performing admirably in the Six Nations (finishing in third), and having improved remarkably in certain aspects of their game when compared to the drivel with which we have grown accustomed from the Frogs over the past few seasons.

South Africa
Last year was the Springbok’s worst in the entire professional era. Record losses to Ireland, Argentina New Zealand and Italy had many South Africans baying for Allister Coetzee’s blood and, while he is certainly culpable for much of what went wrong, numerous other factors also contributed to the Bok’s dismal displays. Infighting at SARU, Coetzee’s late appointment as head coach (he was appointed just two-months out from the Springboks’ first Test of 2016) as well as the departure of a multitude of SA-playing talent overseas meant the national side was always going to struggle last year. However, the degree and manner at which they stumbled match-after-match was totally unacceptable.

Coetzee has had a lot more time to prepare for this season than he did 12-months ago, and failure to fire against the French will almost certainly see his head roll (although you are never quite sure with the ever-bewildering SARU). The former Stormers coach has appointed Warren Whiteley as his new skipper following the international retirement of Adriaan Strauss, as he looks to build some kind of momentum in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup. Coetzee’s biggest tasks this year will be getting positive results (thick and fast) as well as picking one style-of-play and (for goodness sake!) sticking to it. Selecting form Super Rugby players that fit his proposed playing philosophy could prove a challenge, as many locally-based players usually associated with the national side are either injured, or are seriously not up to international standard of late. With this in mind, don’t be too surprised to see more than a few overseas-based Saffas forcing their way into Coetzee’s squad this month…

Player to Watch: Duane Vermeulen
Perhaps something of a forgotten man to many Bok supporters, the 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year nominee has been in solid, if not spectacular form for Toulon this season. Having been drafted back into the Springbok fold for the first time since last year’s June series against Ireland; Vermeulen will be raring to prove that he still has a good few years of international rugby ahead of him. With Warren Whiteley having been named Bok skipper, and also seemingly having the inside lane to the starting no. 8 berth, it would seem that Vermeulen may be deployed as a blindside flanker in the coming months. The former Stormer will be tasked with adding some much-needed grunt to the Bok forward pack; especially if they are to hault the likes of Louis Picamoles and company this June.

Guy Novès’ appointment as head coach following France’s disastrous showing at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, has coincided with a slow, yet visible improvement in the side’s performances. During Novès’ first season at the helm, his charges managed a first win in five-years over Ireland, on the way to a fifth-place finish in that year’s Six Nations. In total, 2016 saw the French win four, and lose six of their Tests, with a narrow 19-24 pulsating loss to New Zealand the standout showing. France finished this year’s northern hemisphere showpiece in third, with three-wins and two-losses to their name, and will arrive on South African soil in the knowledge that a first-ever series win in South Africa is well within their grasp.

One of the most pleasing aspects that has become apparent under Novès’ reign, has been his willingness to blood young French talent. Indeed, the likes of Baptiste Serin, Virimi Vakatawa and Fabien Sanconnie could become household names in French rugby in the years to come, and, with experienced campaigners like captain, Guilhem Guirado and Louis Picamoles overseeing their progress, they will only get better. Vakatawa has been particularly impressive, and although he may not have genuine French-heritage, he will be one of the men tasked with bringing back the flair to French rugby, something we have not seen nearly enough of over the past few seasons.

Player to Watch: Scott Spedding
The former SA U21 fullback will relish an opportunity for a hit-out against his country of birth. His solid, balanced running from the back (especially from broken play) is sure to give the Boks more than a few headaches this June, especially with an inexperienced backline expected to start for the home side. The recently crowned Top 14 champion with Clermont also has a siege gun boot - something the Boks should be wary of when considering giving away penalties anywhere in the pitch. One of the more popular players in this French side, they will need Spedding in top form if they are to pip the Boks this Test series.

Verdict: South Africa 2-1 France
It is no secret that the Springboks are at their lowest ever ebb, and the wily French will certainly smell blood in the water. Allister Coetzee is under immense pressure to win this series, and I sense he will revert back to a more conservative style-of-play this June just to get over the line – something that will not please Bok supporters in the slightest. As wonderful as it would be to see Coetzee pick a squad of greenhorns, and tell them to just go out there and throw the ball around, there is very little to suggest that he has the guts to do so. Territory and defence will be the name of their game, and only if the Boks manage to grind out wins in the first two Tests might we see a more expansive game in the third.

Guirado’s troops meanwhile are battle-hardened after a long European season and will be much more in-sync with a Six Nations campaign already under the belt. The French will take the first Test, with the likes of Picamoles and his pack of forwards likely to dominate the collisions, if recent showings by the majority of the SA franchises in Super Rugby are anything to go by. Sheer desperation should see the Boks claim victory in the remaining two Tests and spare Coetzee his job, but expect those encounters to be more than just a little close. It may very well go down to the wire, just as it did against Ireland 12-months ago.

First Test – 10 June at Loftus Versfeld, 17h00
Second Test – 17 June at Growthpoint Kings Park, 17h00
Third Test – 24 June at Emirates Airlines Park, 17h00

Head-to-Head (39 Test Matches Contested Overall)
South Africa – 22 wins (64%)
France – 11 wins (36%)
Draws – 6

Biggest Wins
South Africa 52-10 France, Parc des Princes, 22 November 1997
France 30-10 South Africa, Marseille, 9 November 2002

Last Result Between the Two
23 November 2013 - France 10-19 South Africa, Stade Francais.

Written by Shaun Goosen for @Hollywoodbets.net!

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