France v Samoa, November 24
France and Samoa primed for battle
November 22, 2012
Vincent Clerc scored twice against Argentina last weekend © Getty Images
France have been the northern hemisphere's shining light in the November Tests thus far and they will look to make it three from three when they came face-to-face with Samoa on Saturday.
Les Bleus downed the Wallabies 33-6 in their opening Test of their autumn internationals programme and backed that up with a commanding four-try win over Argentina last weekend. The Pumas went into an early lead but the majestic Frederic Michalak and the influential Yannick Nyanga led Les Bleus to a memorable victory.
They are now nicely positioned in the top four of the IRB rankings ahead of the 2015 World Cup draw and a victory for France would see them keep England at bay but a defeat and a big win for Stuart Lancaster's side against South Africa would see them climb into the top four with their exact ranking dependent on Australia's return from their game against Italy.
Things begin to get a little complicated if France were to suffer a narrow defeat (by 15 points or less) and England were to beat the Boks by a similar margin with IRB officials then forced to go beyond the two decimal points they use for published ranking as the sides would be locked on 83.07 points. In such a scenario, England would edge ahead of their cross-Channel rivals.
And France will not have it easy against Samoa. They thrashed Canada 42-12 a fortnight ago and backed that up with an impressive physical win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium last Friday.
France - Player to Watch: Louis Picamoles is tearing up trees at the back of the scrum and will relish the chance to run out against a physical outfit such as Samoa.
France - Team News: France have recalled scrum-half Morgan Parra in place of Maxime Machenaud who drops to the bench. And Parra's inclusion is one of three changes from the side that defeated Argentina last weekend in Lille. Both of the other tweaks come in the front row with hooker Benjamin Kayser and loose-head Thomas Domingo starting at the expense of Dimitri Szarzewski and Yannick Forestier. And like Machenaud, the pair drop to the bench.
Samoa - Player to Watch: Robert Lilomaiava scored four tries on his Test debut when he ran out for Samoa against Canada and he will start at fullback against France on Saturday. He could run the French defence ragged so Les Bleus need to keep an eye on him.
Samoa - Team News: Samoa have made four changes from the side that beat Wales with Paul Williams ruled out due to a fractured cheekbone and he is replaced by Johnny Leota. Fullback Faatoina Autagavaia is sidelined with a broken hand with Robert Lilomaiava earning his second cap. Joe Tekori takes over from Dan Leo in the pack while Ti'i Paulo starts at hooker instead of Ole Avei.
Samoa celebrate their win over Wales © PA Photos
Key Battle: Kahn Fotauli'i was named Man of the Match after his impressive showing against Wales and will come up against Morgan Parra who is back in the French XV. It should be a great battle at half-back between the two scrum-halves.
Trivia: Robert Lilomaiava's four tries on debut for Samoa saw him become the 10th player to achieve the feat in world rugby.
Stats: This is the third time that France and Samoa have come face-to-face. France have prevailed on both of the previous occasions.
"There are young players who are coming through at the moment and it should be them that the spotlight is on. I have had my time" - Frederic Michalak tries to deflect the interest away from him despite his impressive form.
"We cannot face up to a team like France with players who are only 70 or 80 percent fit. We need to field players who are 100 percent fit and who can give their all." - Samoa coach Stephen Betham explains the reasons behind the changes.
Prediction: France will survive the Samoan onslaught and come away victors
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.