France vs South Africa Live : South Africa continue their November tour of Europe as they stop in Paris for a clash against France at the Stade de France on Saturday.
It is the hosts’ season opener, while the Springboks are looking to bounce back from a disappointing result after being narrowly beaten by England at Twickenham last week.
While the defeat will still be fresh in the visitors’ minds, France did not fare too well in their last outing either, as they failed to win a single Test in their tour to New Zealand in June, which ended in a 3-0 series win to the world champions. This stretched their losing streak to four-matches, with their last victory coming in the Six Nations at home to England in March.
In a bid to return to winning ways, coach Jacques Brunel has called on the experienced head of Louis Picamoles, who slots in at number eight for the first time in national colours in over a year, while flyhalf Camille Lopez also returns to the starting line-up after an injury-ravaged 18 months.
His South African counterpart, Rassie Erasmus has also injected some much-needed experience in his starting XV, particularly in the backline, where Wille le Roux and Faf de Klerk return in place of Damian Willemse and Ivan van Zyl, who both made run-on debuts against England.
There is a single, yet significant, change among the forwards where Eben Etzebeth drops out of the matchday 23 completely after breaking down injured at Twickenham. His place in the side is taken by Gloucester lock Franco Mostert.
Times have changed when it comes to the French, and it is reflected in the recent Springbok record against them, but the South Africans should consider themselves forewarned by the little hints that times may also now be changing back to what they were.
There was a time when the Boks knew they underestimated France at their peril. Indeed, several times in the early part of this century, that fact was drummed home to them in an emphatic way. Like the day in June 2001 when Harry Viljoen’s team begun the year in an ambitious mood against what was supposed to be an understrength and weak French side in Johannesburg – and lost quite convincingly!
A few years later a Bok side coached by Jake White endured a similar experience on home soil, although they did escape from that game with a draw before winning well in Port Elizabeth a week later.
That was 2005, which also happened to be the last year that France beat South Africa at the venue for Saturday night’s test, Stade de France. It was a bitterly cold day at the end of a long year for the Boks. In fact, it snowed in Paris on the morning of the game. The Boks played like they were cold and lost 26-20. Since then Stade de France has been a happy hunting ground if you factor in the wins scored there in the 2007 World Cup.
There has been only one French win over the Boks on any ground since 2006, which was when Jake White’s team lost the first home test under his coaching to the French at Newlands. That was in Toulouse in 2009. Remember that game? Yes, it was the one where the singer turned the pre-match rendering of the national anthem into a reggae song. It threw the Boks out, or so they say, and they ended up playing as if they were on a beach in the Caribbean.
Since then there have been no nasty surprises. John Smit’s team thumped the French at Newlands on the same weekend as the FIFA World Cup opened in 2010, and until last year’s one point win in Paris, the French hadn’t come close.
But last year’s close call should be seen as a warning by the Boks, for at this point where there are more defeats on Rassie Erasmus’ record than wins and they can ill afford to slip again. Scotland, who they play next week, are not the soft touches they once were – particularly not in Edinburgh.