France and South Africa do battle in the Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Saturday in what could be a significant match for the teams’ respective coaches.
Both les Bleus boss Guy Novès and Srpingbok head coach Allister Coetzee are under pressure after several underwhelming results by their sides during this year.
France head into this clash on the back of a typically topsy-turvy year which they started in solid fashion by finishing in joint second place – alongside Ireland and Scotland – in the Six Nations behind winners England.
Things went pear-shaped during their mid-year tour to South Africa in June, however, with the Springboks claiming a comfortable 3-0 series victory courtesy of impressive wins in Pretoria, Durban and Johannesbuirg.
Les Bleus were under the cosh during the first half against the All Blacks last weekend and trailed the world champions 31-5 at half-time but came back strongly in the second half before eventually losing 38-18.
The Springboks, meanwhile, fared little better in 2017 and despite that series whitewash of France in June, will head into this fixture as the underdogs after they suffered a humiliating 38-3 defeat to Ireland in Dublin last weekend.
That result was a shock to the system for everybody associated with Springbok rugby as the two-time world champions looked like they turned the corner when they finished their Rugby Championship campaign with a superb performance in a 25-24 defeat against the All Blacks.
But that result proved to be a false dawn as they were outplayed in all departments against Ireland and will have to show considerable improvement if they want to beat France.
Adding spice to this fixture is Wednesday’s announcement of France as the hosts of the 2023 Rugby World Cup ahead of South Africa, who were initially identified as World Rugby’s preferred host nation of the global showpiece.
Coetzee admitted that South Africa’s failed bid was a disappointment but dismissed talk of revenge against les Bleus.
“Obviously losing the bid is not ideal for a country like South Africa‚” he said.
“We would have loved to have that opportunity because it would have been massive for our country.
“We accept the result. We just want to focus on the Test. It won’t motivate is differently necessarily.
“We will have to play well to beat an improved French team. In a way both teams are desperate to get the result.”
Players to watch:
For France: Despite finishing on the losing side against the All Blacks, one player who emerged with his reputation enhanced is young scrum-half Antoine Dupont. The 21-year-old is one of the brightest talents in the game and proved a real handful on attack against the world champions. Dupont has a superb skill-set with his ability to break around the fringes particularly impressive. He played a bit part when les Bleus visited South Africa in June with an appearance off the bench in the second Test in Durban the only time he saw action during the series. Tthe Boks will be wary of his ability, however, particularly after his exploits against the All Blacks.
For South Africa: He’s back! The return of inspirational number eight Duane Vermeulen is a shot in the arm for the Boks and he will be expected to give the visitors much needed go-forward in the forward exchanges. The Toulon stalwart is playing in familiar surroundings and his knowledge of the opposition and conditions could prove crucial in the bigger scheme of things. Apart from his ball carrying, Vermeulen is also a solid lineout option while his prowess at the breakdowns should not be underestimated.
Head-to-head: The front row duel between France’s captain Guilhem Guirado and his direct opponent, Bok hooker, Malcolm Marx will be one of the highlights of this encounter. Both players play integral parts in their respective side’s game-plans and will be determined to stamp their authority on this fixture by delivering superb individual performances. Both are adept ball carriers but Marx is also influential at the breakdowns and will be determined to make an impact in this facet of play.
2017: South Africa won 35-12 in Johannesburg
2017: South Africa won 37-15 in Durban
2017: South Africa won 37-14 in Pretoria
2013: South Africa won 19-10 in Paris
2010: South Africa won 42-17 in Cape Town
2009: France won 20-13 in Toulouse
2006: France won 36-26 in Cape Town
2005: France won 26-20 in Paris
2005: South Africa won 27-13 in Port Elizabeth
2005: They drew 30-30 in Durban
2002: France won 30-10 in Marseilles
2001: France won 20-10 in Paris
2001: South Africa won 20-15 in Durban
2001: France won 32-23 in Johannesburg
Prediction: Les Bleus will be up for this one and although the Boks will also deliver an improved effort, the hosts will be victorious. France by five points!
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 Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Sebastien Taofifenua, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Paul Jedreasiak, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Damian Penaud
South Africa: 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 Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: 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
Date: Saturday, November 18
Venue: Stade de France
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)