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Wallabies must get early physical edge over France, warns Matt Giteau

Not to be underestimated: (Clockwise from main) The French team trains in Brisbane.

Not to be underestimated: (Clockwise from main) The French team trains in Brisbane. Photo: AFP

If the Wallabies allow France to gain an early physical upper hand in the first game of their three-Test series, they will do so at their own peril, former Test playmaker Matt Giteau says.

Giteau knows a thing or two about the French squad, having played with and against many of them for the past three years at Toulon, who last weekend backed up from their Heineken Cup final win to claim victory in the Top 14 final against Castres.

“With the French team, you know what to expect,” Giteau said. “They are going to be strong up front. They have also got a lot of brilliant backs.

Morgan Parra leaps to take a high ball.

Morgan Parra leaps to take a high ball. Photo: AFP

“If they can get a physical edge on you [early] … you are in for a long night. The biggest thing is to not try and match that but try to impose yourself some way.

“If you are able to do that early against France, you are able to get some quick ball, and get some momentum and then you are able to get a score in the game.

“They like to stifle your attack, slow that down and disrupt your ball at scrums. The quicker you get into a rhythm against the side, the better you are going to go.”

Still a winner: Matthew Giteau in Toulon last week.

Still a winner: Matthew Giteau in Toulon last week. Photo: AFP

Below, Giteau cast his eye over the French squad, some key areas of its game, and who should figure strongly – if not in the first Test in Brisbane on Saturday night, then sometime on the tour.

FRONT ROW

A big loss for France in the front row is the absence of their "male model" hooker Dimitri Szarzewski because of an ankle injury, and Clermont rake Benjamin Kayser due to a neck injury.

General: Frederic Michalak.

General: Frederic Michalak. Photo: AFP

But Giteau said while France will miss Szarzewski’s “versatility around the park”, they will still be a mighty foe in the scrum where the two captains – Montpellier tight-head and veteran of 71 Tests, Nicolas Mas, 34, and hooker Stephen Moore – will clash heads.

“French front rows really pride themselves in scrummaging, being able to win their ball or stop the opposition’s ball,” Giteau said.

“Not that they will see it as a weakness of the Wallabies, but that is one area where I am sure the French will target because it’s where they pride themselves on."

SECOND ROW

Stade Francais second-rower Pascal Pape, who captained France in the Six Nations, was left at home to rest after a long season.

That may be good for the Wallabies, but Giteau warned that his trademark aggressive play at the breakdown was something French second-rowers Yoann Maestri and Sebastian Vahaamahina, who are touring here, will try to emulate while also being a force to be reckoned with at the set-piece.

“He leads from the front,” Giteau said of Pape. “At the breakdown he is a menace ... with the Wallabies, when the ball is quick, they are unbelievably hard to stop.

“So I’m sure that will be one area where they will be looking at trying to slow down.”

BACK ROW

Squad captain Thierry Dusautoir, 32, missed selection for the first Test to recover from an arm injury.

But the Toulouse player’s expected return for his 66th Test next Saturday in Melbourne will reinforce a French back row that Giteau said was “strong”. It includes Montpellier No.6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, who has played 34 Tests.

“When he is playing well, the rest of the side lifts with him,” Giteau said of Dusautoir. “Whenever he is playing well you get the best performance out of the rest of the back row because he is a natural leader, gets right in and does the work.”

HALFBACK

Giteau said Racing Metro’s Maxime Machenaud, 25, who will wear the No.9 strip on Saturday, and the 54-Test Morgan Parra, 25, from Clermont, have contrasting styles as halfbacks.

“Machenaud is incredibly physical around the rucks,” Giteau said. “He is a stocky halfback, who really likes to get stuck into the defence.

“He has a good service like most halfbacks and a good kicking game. Parra is more of a sniping halfback who looks for opportunity.

“He looks to create a little bit more. He has a great kicking game in finding space, and he can goal-kick well.”

FIVE-EIGHTHS

Giteau was not surprised that Philippe Saint Andre brought experienced Toulon teammate Frederic Michalak, 31, who will start at five-eighth on Saturday.

The 68-Test veteran had relatively limited game time in the No.10 slot playing for Toulon, but Giteau said that was due to the presence of English star Jonny Wilkinson.

“I am sure everyone in world rugby knows the things he can do with a football not too many can,” Giteau said.

Giteau said Michalak was a different styled five-eighth to Castres’ Remi Tales, 30.

“Remi Tales is a great player. Tactically he has a great kick on him. He is strong. He is bigger than your average 10. He likes to take the ball on.

“They are both great 10s, but very different players in how they approach the game”

CENTRES

Gael Fickou, 20, from Toulouse and Wesley Fofana, 26, from Castres, are France’s starting centres combination for Saturday.

But Giteau said when Toulon teammate Mathieu Bastareaud, 25, paired with Fofana, the Wallabies would face a mighty challenge.

“Fofana is big and strong, but there's no one bigger or stronger than Bastareaud,” Giteau said. “If you can get to him before he has got the ball … that is your best chance.

“He is incredibly strong, [and with] his footwork … He has added elements to his game … an ability to offload in contact, passing, and his short-kicking game.

“Fofana is one of the great centres in world rugby. He is dangerous with the ball. He is quick, strong ... he can play on the wing.

“[Them] working together … it is one area the Wallabies need to look at because, if these two get going, it’s going to be tough.”

BACK THREE

The stock of wingers and fullbacks in the French squad makes for a “very good and solid” back three whatever combination they field, Giteau said.

But he said the player to watch was Toulouse winger Yoann Huget.

“Brice Dulin [From Castres and selected on the bench] is great in counter-attack. He has good feet. He is quick,” Giteau said.

“But the man who probably scored most of their tries, he did in the Six Nations, is Yoann Huget.

“He has finished off a lot of tries. He is a quality finisher of good moves. If they are able to get some good ball and create some things in the centres, they have some great people to finish them off.”

3 comments so far

  • lots of Giteau 'said', but not allot of Giteau 'did'

    Commenter
    brendo
    Date and time
    June 07, 2014, 2:34AM
    • I like this sort of analysis of a visiting team. We don't always have much information about teams with players little known to us. Thank you, Rupert and Matt.

      What I'd like to see, Mr. Editor, is more coverage of the French rugby scene. More articles about club ownership (doesn't Rocky Elsom part-own a club?), which Australians are playing (including lower divisions), which clubs are the big movers in spending (we already know about Toulon), articles about players in France from places like Georgia. What about Russia and the Chinese Army?

      Of course, I'd also like to see more in-depth journalism about the Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane club scenes too - and how the Melbourne and Perth amateur scenes are developing. More stories, please. (And I know you don't have many staff.)

      Finally, how about some journalism explaining the impact of Olympic 7s on budgets and player movements - how much are countries spending to prepare?

      Thanks, Fred

      Commenter
      FredClark (
      Location
      Wallendbeen
      Date and time
      June 07, 2014, 8:45AM
      • .... or more coverage how the IRB JWC 2014 is going and how our young Wallaby is doing ??

        Remember these guys are the next inline for possible Wallaby selection and S15 contracts !

        Commenter
        Machooka
        Location
        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        June 07, 2014, 12:38PM

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