Connolly: Wallabies must be wary of French trap

John Connolly Profile
by John Connolly

We’ve reached the middle of the road on the tour and so far, so good for the Wallabies after a couple of good performances.

Michael Cheika would have been relieved to come away from Murrayfield with the win, although he would have no doubt been pleased with the way his team controlled the latter stages of the game and dug deep in the end while Scotland threw 19 phases at them on the final possession.

Michael Cheika wants his players to demand spots. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyCheika has indicated he’ll rest some of his regular starters this week and I personally feel this is a good move. Injecting some fresh legs won’t hurt at this stage of the year and it will give more of the squad an opportunity to contribute on the tour.

When you’re on a long tour with a large squad, one of the challenges you have as a coach is to keep your players keen and happy and feeling like they are involved.

Having said that, France is shaping as a ‘trap’ game for the Wallabies on this tour and selections will be important.

This Test doesn’t count towards the Grand Slam and there’s no doubt that’s where the focus is for the remainder of the tour.

The thing about France is that you never quite know what you’re going to get from them. In France, the locals tend to talk in extremes - it’s either “magnifique” or “catastrophique” and in a sense, that’s true of this French rugby team.

The Wallabies have moved on from their World Cup campaign. Photo: Getty ImagesI mentioned in my previous articles the challenge the northern hemisphere teams face at this time of year when they are bringing players back from their clubs and having little time to prepare as a team to take on the likes of the Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks, who have been playing continuously since June.

No country seems to struggle more with these challenges than France, and it dates back to their earliest days.

If you look at the history of French rugby, it was built around the provincial game rather than the national team.

The country is built of 28 provinces and culturally they are vastly different, even as far as using different dialects of the French language.

I remember in my first year coaching Stade Francais when we played a game down in the south in Montauban. Our Test number 8, Christophe Juillet, came off at half time and I noticed he didn’t have a single mark or spot of dirt on his jersey. When I questioned him on it, he said: “You don’t go to the ground down here”.

There are strong rivalries within any country, but in France there is still a strong emphasis on the provincial game which creates challenges for the national team.

Whenever France win, it often seems to be on the back of great individual efforts, and not always a collective performance. Emotion tends to play a big part in their performances as well.

The Wallabies will need to do the basics well, and if they can maintain the level they’ve played at on the tour so far, they should come away with a comfortable win.

France's scrumhalf is key to their chances this weekend. Photo: AFPFrance Coach Guy Noves is a an old-school style coach and you don’t know what team he’ll throw up, especially around the halves with Francois Trinh-Duc out injured.

There is some world class talent in the French team. Louis Picamoles is right up there alongside the best in the world at number 8 and we may see the Fijian flyer Vakatawa again after his three-try effort against Samoa last weekend. The key to their chances probably lies in the hands of their scrumhalf, Maxime Machenaud.

While France presents a danger game for Australia, our tour won’t be defined by this game. The Wallabies will live or die by their final two Tests against Ireland and England.

From the outside looking in, the most pleasing thing has been the intent the Wallabies have shown in each of their games some far. There have been some great signs that this team is capable of achieving what it set out to achieve.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.