French regroup may deepen Allister’s angst

2017-02-06 13:03
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - France... possibly reaping the gradual benefits of a major clear-out. South Africa … seemingly just treading water.

Supporters of the already embattled Springboks would hardly have been left feeling any more chipper about prospects for 2017 by events at Twickenham on Saturday, where the French fell an agonising 10 minutes short of recording a major upset in round one of the Six Nations competition.

Going toe to toe throughout with heavily favoured arch-rivals England, Les Bleus eventually succumbed 19-16, undone by a late try from home backline substitute Ben Te’o.

Despite the reverse, France served at least some advance notice that they will not be overly daunted by their three-Test June tour of our shores.

Certainly their showing was significantly better at the hallowed venue than the one put up by the Boks on their end-of-year tour in November, when they were both outmuscled and outsmarted in a clear-cut 37-21 defeat.

With their “jail escape” on Saturday, England were able to continue on their threatening march toward the All Blacks-held record of 18 consecutive Test wins as they earned a 15th of their own, all but one thus far under the tutelage of Eddie Jones.

It is true that England under-delivered in performance terms to a surprising extent, but that also gives insufficient credit to the way France knocked them repeatedly off their stride and, in fact, bossed good periods of the contest with unexpectedly strong physicality, collective grit and sound organisation.

Maybe it is also too early to speak of tangible seeds of a concerted revival by the traditionally fickle French: a better barometer will be if they follow up the Twickenham close shave by beating Scotland in an appealing home follow-up this Sunday (17:00 SA time).

It shapes as almost as big an occasion as Wales v England a day earlier – that one superior only as a meeting of two unbeaten sides – as the Scots pulled off a passionate 27-22 Murrayfield triumph over Ireland to be widely branded the team of the weekend in the competition.

Several sides in the first round, frankly, looked as though they would have the current measure of the Bok side which limped so haplessly through 2016 in under-fire Allister Coetzee’s maiden campaign in charge.

And if France do end up having a credible tournament, their second full one under the coaching tenure of former Test wing Guy Noves, they may even land in South Africa as slight favourites.

They would, after all, have been hardened by the five matches in the Six Nations, which ends in the second half of March, whereas the Boks will enter the June internationals “cold” after no activity of their own since the end of 2016.

The host nation will also be blooding a new, yet-to-be-announced captain, given the retirement from top-tier rugby of Adriaan Strauss.

It is rumoured that SARU will give Coetzee a precarious stay of execution by using the French series as their gauge of whether to extend his stay more significantly.

South Africa hold an historical 22-11 bilateral supremacy over France (six draws) and lead 10-6 in bragging rights at home.

The last meeting between the countries came at Stade de France at the end of the 2013 Bok European tour, when then-coach Heyneke Meyer earned a three-from-three win record, and the tourists prevailed 19-10 in the closing fixture.

An indication of just how much France have rebuilt and remodelled since then is the fact that, of the starting XV who scared the daylights out of England on Saturday, only two of them also began against the Boks in that 2013 clash – lock Yoann Maestri and flank Damien Chouly.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  france  |  allister coetzee  |  rugby


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