All eyes are on Toulouse this Friday night as France take on South
Africa in what promises to be an epic clash. The Top 14 takes a break
as Marc Lievremont’s men embark upon an autumn international
programme that sees ‘Les Bleus’ pitting their talents against The
Springboks, Samoa and New Zealand. Lievremont has already
announced his side to face the men in green and gold and the coach
has opted for a steady hand on the tiller, selecting 10 of the 15 players
who sensationally scored a summer victory against the All Blacks in
Dunedin. Shocks and surprises are few and far between, but there are
still a few interesting choices on which the match could hinge.
Despite his good form for Toulouse this season, Maxime Médard has
been overlooked at full back in favour of Damien Traille of Biarritz. It
would seem that Traille’s legendary howitzer boot won him his place
against a Springbok side that will look to hunt down the French and
put pressure on their back line from the get-go. And when France look
to get some go-forward themselves Lievremont has opted for a centre
pairing of Perpignan’s Maxime Mermoz and Toulouse’s Yann David,
when the sensible money was on an all Perpignan pairing of Mermoz
and David Marty. Despite his tender age of 21 and just the one
previous international selection – against Italy back in March of 2008 –
David was picked because of his physicality for a match that’s bound
to be brutal, as all meetings with South Africa invariably are.
Elsewhere there are few surprises. The half back pairing of fly half
Francois Trinh-Duc and scrum half Julien Dupuy seems to be
Lievremont’s preferred duo for the future, while a front line of Nicolas
Mas, William Servat and Fabien Barcella seems to be in place to offer
brute strength and mobility in a bid to counter the threat of a
dominant Springbok pack. The French have had a hard time putting
out a competitive front row in recent times and while this trio is the
probably the best France has to offer, it still remains to be seen
whether they will stand strong against South Africa.
On paper this seems like a pretty decent French side. But then again
South Africa are a pretty good unit themselves and will be smarting
after being defeated by Leicester Tigers last week. It’s all teed up to
be an enthralling encounter and the rugby-mad public of Toulouse will
no doubt create a formidable atmosphere in which this gladiatorial
contest will play out.
The Top 14 is mothballed this weekend as all eyes focus on the
national side, but to a certain degree that’s a shame as we’ve been
enjoying the best, most exciting domestic campaign since I’ve been
living in France. The fact that just five points separate the top four
sides after 12 game days proves that this is as competitive a league as
you’ll find anywhere in the world and the quality of the games has
been uniformly high. And a final mention in dispatches for my local
team Albi, who are currently marooned at the bottom of the table, but
who still put in a magnificent performance up in Paris to go down by
just 23 points to 18 against Stade Francais in the middle of last week.
If ever you needed proof that the Top 14 is a place where every single
victory has to be earned, then surely this was it!