France v Australia
Michael Cheika's magic touch to last another week
Sam Bruce
November 14, 2014
Michael Cheika says his Wallabies have plenty of improvement left in them

Team News

  • France's humiliation in June prompted an overhaul of the squad, and fewer than half of the players who lost the final match of the series in Australia have been named to start on Saturday. The new-look side beat Fiji 40-15 win last weekend, with exciting backs Scott Spedding and Teddy Thomas impressing on debut. France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has named 13 halves pairings in his 30 Tests in charge so his decision to retain the more aggressive axis of Sebastien Tillous-Borde and fly-half Camile Lopez could be key behind what is a dominant looking pack.
  • Michael Cheika made just one change to Australia's starting side, with former captain James Horwill replacing Sam Carter to add bulk and physicality in the second-row. Cheika, interestingly, has opted for a 5-3 forwards-backs split on the bench, recalling Quade Cooper after selecting a 6-2 split for Wales.

Wales coach Warren Gatland said before his side's loss to Australia that new Wallabies boss Michael Cheika had a touch of the magic about him; unfortunately for the Kiwi, and for Wales, he was right. Cheika continued his honeymoon period as Wallabies coach last week, following up the 40-36 win over the Barbarians with a thrilling five-point defeat of the Red Dragons. It was not without its faults, however, and Cheika is all too aware the Wallabies are struggling to close out games.

Swept 3-0 by the Wallabies in the series Australia in June, this weekend's clash affords France the opportunity to win back some of the respect they lost Down Under. Les Bleus were a disinterested rabble under Philippe Saint-Andre earlier this year and, apart from the dour 6-0 defeat they suffered in Melbourne, they failed to apply any prolonged pressure on the men in gold. A win over minnows Fiji snapped a run of five straight defeats but Saint-Andre needs a major southern scalp to quell calls for his immediate axing.

In form

Five games without a five-pointer would be described as a "lean trot" for 99% of the backs across the globe. But to Israel Folau, and the handful of others that make up the other 1%, a failure to find the stripe for five games is declared a "drought". We'll be looking for the sky to fall in should Julian Savea ever get the try-scoring yips. What a joy it was to see Folau in open space last week; his line off Michael Hooper's hip was superb and his reading of Rhys Webber's pass for an intercept show what a smart rugby player he has become.

Folau managed a double in a memorable Test debut against the British & Irish Lions last year, but that effort was actually outdone last weekend, albeit against the far less threatening opposition of Fiji. Enter, Teddy Thomas; the 21-year-old Racing Metro winger wasted little time - barely a minute in fact - before making a mark on the Test scene in Paris last weekend. Two more tries in three minutes after the break capped an incredible debut; a tasty showdown with Adam Ashley-Cooper awaits on Saturday.

Israel Folau ended a five-match try-less run with a double against Wales © Getty Images
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Out of form

The Wallabies' front-row has come in for plenty of criticism following last week's embarrassing penalty try conceded after a number of scrum resets. But perhaps the focus should be at lock, and the fact that the front-row isn't receiving the power they need from behind? Excellent analysis from ESPN's Brett McKay in his Three Points column pointed out the deficiencies in the second-row - particularly replacement Will Skelton. The Wallabies require greater weight from their tall timber at scrum time; technique has surely been a focus at training this week.

It's not that he's out of form essentially but France skipper Thierry Dusautoir had an unusually quiet outing against Fiji Last weekend. It could be that his backline, and largely South Africa-born Scott Spedding, did most of the damage, yet the veteran back-rower will have been a little disappointed with a performance that yielded just five runs for two metres; he was easily bettered by No.8 Damien Chouly.

Pascal Pape missed France's disastrous tour of Australia in June © Getty Images
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Key battle

Having seen what the Welsh scrum did to the Wallabies in Cardiff last weekend, Les Bleus will fancy their chances at the set-piece particularly with Pascal Pape - who missed the series Down Under - back at lock. Buoyed by the patriotic home fans, the French may be able to get a real roll on if they land some psychological blows up front early on.

A better effort from the Wallabies' front-five is required and, should they get it, the class in the backline will show out wide. The French had few answers to the Wallabies' width in June, and the added offloading threat Cheika has encouraged is already paying dividends.

Stats

  • Australia have won eight of the past nine against France
  • The home fans do have cause for optimism however; a 33-6 triumph over the Wallabies in 2012 remains one of their finest performances of the past five years.

Odds

Australia are slight favourites to win at $1.80 while France are at $2.

Tip

France are a much tougher outfit at home, and the word "revenge" has been thrown about this week following their woeful effort in June. But it won't be enough against a resurgent Wallabies; Cheika's magic dust will last at least another week. Australia by seven.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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