Antoine Dupont of France. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Les Bleus

France can lay down World Cup marker with convincing win over Wallabies

Eddie Jones’ side boasts a powerful pack but has lost its first four games under the new head coach.

FABIEN GALTHIÉ MUST have chuckled to himself in recent weeks in the knowledge that New Zealand had overtaken France as favourites to win the World Cup.

Ian Foster’s All Blacks have unquestionably improved since their series defeat to Ireland last summer but, in the same space of time, they’ve also lost to Argentina at home, lost to South Africa twice, blown a 19-point lead to draw with a generationally awful England team, and twice scraped past an Australia who find themselves at a similar nadir in their rugby history.

By contrast, France have won every game bar two in the last two and a half years — losing only to Ireland in this year’s Six Nations and to Scotland with a heavily experimental team three weeks ago — and bring with them into a home World Cup a squad of unmatched quality captained by arguably the greatest player ever to play the game.

Yet New Zealand, who suffered a record 35-7 defeat to South Africa in London on Friday night, remain the bookies’ tip to lift William Webb Ellis for a third time on 28 October.

After back-to-back annihilations of Wales and the All Blacks, meanwhile, Ireland’s pool rivals South Africa are suddenly justifiably fancied to defend their crown in many quarters — not least their own. As one presenter put it on Super Sport’s coverage of Friday’s test at Twickenham, it was a victory which “catapults South Africa to number one in the world”.

That’s not strictly true, however: Ireland clung onto their no.1 status in Bayonne last night and currently sit atop South Africa and New Zealand in World Rugby’s rankings.

It’s frightening the extent to which all of this suits France, who in Antoine Dupont boast rugby union’s Lionel Messi figure but somehow found themselves in a situation in which they’re coming into the tournament almost under the radar relative to what one might have expected 12 months ago.

But for how long?

After a victory over Fiji in Nantes last week which has improved with age, Les Bleus return to Paris this evening where Eddie Jones’ Wallabies will seek to put some bounce into their own upcoming campaign.

This will be both France and Australia’s final warm-up game ahead of respective pool openers with New Zealand (8 September) and Georgia (9 September).

Eddie Jones’ travelling circus at least makes the Wallabies newsworthy in a country in which they’re very much the ‘Cork footballers’ of the sporting hierarchy.

At the moment, though, they’re mostly in the news for losing constantly; defeat to France would make it five on the spin for Jones since he took over from Dave Rennie earlier this year.

Australia will probably still reach a semi-final for the simple fact that the World Cup draw is a moronic process. If they are to make it that far, though, it will be because of a pack which should be able to hang with the best of them. Will Skelton and co. will find that out one way or another at the Stade de France this evening when they take on arguably the world leaders in that department.

Equally intriguing, though, will be the fortunes of the out-halves: Melbourne Rebels standout Carter Gordon starts just his fourth test for Australia, while Matthieu Jalibert will seek to reaffirm to the French rugby public what they already suspect: that they’re in capable hands even without the cruelly injury-stricken Romain Ntamack.

Indeed, given Jalibert’s quality, there is a strong case to be made that a greater loss to France in the coming weeks will be that of loosehead Cyril Baille, albeit the Toulouse star has been included in Galthié’s 33-man squad as he recovers from a calf injury.

Notable is that Les Bleus have opted for a six-two split on the bench where La Rochelle’s Paul Boudehent stands in for France’s usual forward-back hybrid, Sekou Macalou of Stade Francais.

Somebody is going to come up snake eyes on that six-two gamble at this tournament, but with athletes available to him in the shape of Macalou and Boudehent, Galthié might as well continue to roll the dice as he seeks to make France an irresistible physical force.

The consensus on today’s test is that it will be one-sided. If it transpires as such, France’s victory will be almost written off as a given.

In reality, they’ll have to work hard to out-gun Jones’ Wallabies and any kind of convincing victory should put the spooks up their fellow contenders who have hogged the spotlight in recent months.


  • 15. Thomas Ramos
  • 14. Damian Penaud
  • 13. Gael Fickou
  • 12. Jonathan Danty
  • 11. Gabin Villiere
  • 10. Matthieu Jalibert
  • 9. Antoine Dupont (captain)
  • 1. Jean-Baptiste Gros
  • 2. Julien Marchand
  • 3. Uini Atonio
  • 4. Thibaud Flament
  • 5. Paul Willemse
  • 6. Francois Cros
  • 7. Charles Ollivon
  • 8. Gregory Alldritt


  • 16. Peato Mauvaka
  • 17. Sebastien Taofifenua
  • 18. Dorian Aldegheri
  • 19. Romain Taofifenua
  • 20. Cameron Woki
  • 21. Paul Boudehent
  • 22. Baptiste Couilloud
  • 23. Melvyn Jaminet


  • 15. Andrew Kellaway
  • 14. Mark Nawaqanitawase
  • 13. Jordan Petaia
  • 12. Lalakai Foketi
  • 11. Suliasi Vunivalu
  • 10. Carter Gordon
  • 9. Tate McDermott


  • 1. Angus Bell
  • 2. David Porecki
  • 3. Taniela Tupou
  • 4. Richie Arnold
  • 5. Will Skelton
  • 6. Tom Hooper
  • 7. Fraser McReight
  • 8. Rob Valetini


  • Matt Faessler
  • Blake Schoupp
  • Zane Nonggorr
  • Matt Philip
  • Rob Leota
  • Langi Gleeson
  • Issak Fines-Leleiwasa
  • Ben Donaldson

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