Mighty tussle in Toulouse tonight

2009-11-13 00:00

TAKING on the fresh and enthusiastic Tricolores, on a small pitch and in the damp and cold, could prove a bridge too far for the battle-weary Springboks in Toulouse tonight.

The Springboks have not won in France since 1997 and there are doubts whether the South Africans, at the fag-end of a long season, can find the will and intensity to break that depressing run of defeats.

The French, in contrast, are just limbering up for their international season and they believe the Boks, in their scrummaging and forced into change in midfield and at loose forward, are vulnerable.

They also believe that the Springboks have erred in arriving in Toulouse only on Wednesday and having just two light practices on French soil before the Test.

Former Sharks number eight Shaun Sowerby, who now plays for Toulouse, agrees.

“The conditions are going to be massively influential,” Sowerby said, adding that the Boks have taken a risk arriving late.

“It’s kind of arrogant and sends out the message that South Africa back themselves to win even though they are only going to be in the country 48 hours before kickoff.”

He said the French have prepared well and the Boks, away from home and in difficult conditions, will struggle.

“It’s going to come down to desire. The Boks will need to want this more than the French. They will need to be at their very best both physically and mentally to win.”

The French have also been encouraged by the dramatic collapse of the Springbok scrum in their tour opener against Leicester and they are convinced they can control that area of the game.

No one who played at Leicester will start against the Tricolores, but the South African coaching staff believe that the jolt which shook Springbok rugby last week will strengthen the resolve of the Bok Test line-up tonight.

The French also believe that they can expose the Boks’ lack of physicality in the back row, following the injuries to Juan Smith and Pierre Spies, while they have also targeted the midfield where Adrian Jacobs has replaced Jean de Villiers at inside centre.

Of course, the French are talking themselves up to prepare for the “most physical team” in world rugby and the collisions at the tackle and in the scrums will be torrid.

Bok coach Peter de Villliers believes the French, at home and lifted by a partisan home crowd, will provide even more of a physical challenge than the British Lions.

”We’re playing France in France and that’s another story. We

know how passionate the people are here, we know how the players can get raw energy from the crowd. It will be really tough, but that’s exactly what Test rugby’s about.

Coach Marc Lievremont has tapped into the home crowd support by selecting seven Toulouse players in his starting line-up.

“One of the biggest weapons is their well-balanced pack,” said Bok skipper John Smit.

“They have experience and power in the scrum and a good lineout, and it will be one of our toughest Test matches this year.”

The Boks, under lights and possibly with a wet ball, will hope to pressure the unpredictable French with the tactical kicking game of halfbacks Fourie du Preez and Morné Steyn, and the strength of Heinrich Brussow and Schalk Burger at the breakdown.

But it is the battle of the forwards, the ability to win set piece possession and create frontfoot ball, which will decide the flow and rhythm of a tough Test match.

And the key is whether the Boks, at the end of the year’s long, hard slog, will again be prepared to roll up their sleeves and swap bruises with the French. If they are below their best, if they are a yard off the pace or if they lack intensity, they will lose to a fresh, energetic and passionate French side.

If the Springboks can somehow emerge from a difficult night with a win, their number one standing in world rugby will have received a resounding endorsement.

 

Teams (15-1)

France: Damien Traille; Vincent Clerc, Yann David, Maxime Mermoz, Cedric Heymans; Francois Trinh-Duc, Julien Dupuy; Louis Picamoles, Imanol Harinordoquy, Thierry Dusautoir (capt); Romain Millo-Chluski, Lionel Nallet; Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Fabien Barcella

Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewzski, Sylvain Marconnet, Sebastien Chabal, Julien Bonnaire, Morgan Parra, David Marty, Maxime Medard, Thomas Domingo

South Africa: Zane Kirchner; JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Adi Jacobs, Bryan Habana; Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Ryan Kankowski, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussow; Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha; John Smit (capt), Bismarck Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Wian du Preez, CJ van der Linde, Andries Bekker, Danie Rossouw, Ruan Pienaar, Wynand Olivier

Referee: Wayne Barnes (ENG)

Kick-off: 9.45 pm (SA time) – live on SuperSport 1

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