Spring­boks vs France – a clash of the giants

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

FRANCE flanker Imanol Hari­nor­do­quy last night turned up the heat as South Africa set out to to im­prove a dis­mal re­cent record against France, which had all the in­gre­di­ents to make last night’s game in Toulouse the in­ter­na­tional match of the au­tumn.

Both sides were at full strength and well mo­ti­vated so there was to be no shadow box­ing down in the heart­land of French rugby.

World Cham­pi­ons South Africa had not won in France since 1997 and have tri­umphed in only one of the last six meet­ings be­tween two of the game’s su­per­pow­ers.

The last time they met was in Cape Town in 2006 when Les Bleus made off with a no­table 36-26 win, al­though the tri­umph of which France are most proud is their 32-23 win at alti­tude at El­lis Park in 2001.

Of course, noth­ing is be­yond France when in the mood, but the rea­son they boast such an en­vi­able record against the Spring­boks is that they are one of the few teams in the world ca­pa­ble of stand­ing up to them phys­i­cally among the for­wards. Which is where the action was set to be the hottest last night.

Cue the straight-talk­ing Hari­nor­do­quy. “South Africa are world cham­pi­ons, they are the best team in the world but they also are the nas­ti­est and most phys­i­cal team in the world,” in­sisted the Biar­ritz No 8, who will be op­er­at­ing on the open­side flank.

“They are a team that is al­ways try­ing to hurt,’’ he said. “Of course, they play in­side the rules, they don’t stamp on you or knee you be­cause now if you do that it’s a yel­low card or even a red card.

“Our sport is chang­ing but the fun­da­men­tals are the same. A rugby game, and par­tic­u­larly a game against the Spring­boks, is above all a fight be­tween two packs of for­wards.

“You could say they are butch­ers but I can as­sure you we are not go­ing to be the lambs.

“They don’t play a very so­phis­ti­cated game but they al­ways try to break their op­po­nents’ de­fence, they are very strong in the tackle, and in the rucks, their li­ne­out is su­perb and they are hefty in the phys­i­cal du­els.

“To match them, we’ll have to be very strong on the fun­da­men­tals of the game, do sim­ple things but do them well even if some­times it’s the most dif­fi­cult. I’m sure we can do it but we’ll have to be at our best and play with a lot of sol­i­dar­ity.”

You might quib­ble with some of Hari­nor­do­quy’s emo­tive lan­guage, but play­ing South Africa does un­doubt­edly re­main the supreme phys­i­cal chal­lenge in in­ter­na­tional rugby.

Hari­nor­do­quy will know, how­ever, that this Spring­bok team are also packed full of in­tel­li­gent, in­stinc­tive foot­ballers; not least scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who looks a shoo-in for the IRB player of the year for 2009.

Fac­tor in John Smit, one of the great cap­tains from any era, and you have a team to reckon with.

You do not beat the All Blacks three times on the bounce in two months by ac­ci­dent.

Coach Peter de Vil­liers is pre­pared for the French as­sault.

“It could be even more se­vere than the Bri­tish Lions se­ries. France is one of those teams we re­spect and I ex­pect them to come out with all guns blaz­ing.

“We know how pas­sion­ate the peo­ple are here, we know how the play­ers can get raw en­ergy from the crowd. It will be re­ally tough, but that’s ex­actly what Test rugby’s about.”

France in­cluded seven home Toulouse play­ers for the oc­ca­sion, al­though coach Marc Lievre­mont dropped lo­cal hero Maxime Mé­dard, a star of their sum­mer Test win in New Zealand.

Mé­dard has not been quite him­self since suf­fer­ing a nasty bout of swine flu in Septem­ber and is feel­ing his way back to top form.

No sur­prises in the Bok team al­though the re­jigged back row has a slightly un­fa­mil­iar look in the ab­sence of the in­jured Pierre Spies and Juan Smith.

Un­fa­mil­iar but still for­mi­da­ble. – The Tele­graph

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