The Wallabies believe France will remain a force to be reckoned with despite Fabien Galthie bringing out a third string squad to Australia.
On Monday, Rugby Australia Director of Rugby Scott Johnson said France was the “most dangerous” nation in European”, but the Wallabies will face a side missing its frontline players.
Galthie, the former French captain who played in the 1999 World Cup final against the Wallabies, has picked a 42-man squad with just 167 Tests between them.
Between Wallabies captain Michael Hooper and his deputy James Slipper they have 205 Tests.
Yet the Wallabies are not talking down France’s chances even though only five of their 23 which took the field at home against Wales in their most recent home Six Nations clash will make the trip Down Under.
“They’re a bloody good team,” Wallabies assistant coach Scott Wisemantel said.
Wisemantel knows French rugby like the back of his hand.
Throughout Wisemantel’s two-decade career as an attack coach, where he has worked alongside Eddie Jones with England and Japan, as well as Jake White at Montpellier, he has spent years coaching in France.
So it was no surprise that he managed to reel off player after player as he tried to mount a case of why this French side can’t be underestimated despite the absence of Antoine Dupont, Virimi Vakatawa, Greg Alldritt and Charles Ollivion.
After all, a third-strength French side pushed England to extra time during last year’s Autumn Nations Cup final.
Yet anyone thinking the England side of 2021 or 2020 was humming like the one that made the World Cup final in 2019 would be kidding themselves, with their own fickle media bemoaning the dour style implemented under Eddie Jones since their loss to the Springboks in Yokohama as he tried to get ahead of the next trend in rugby but, ultimately, struggled this year, winning just two of five Six Nations matches.
“In 2019, everyone raves about our young (Junior Wallabies) kids; we’ve got six of them from the 20s, they’ve got three,” he said.
“It’s game on. We’ve got young kids, they’ve got young kids.”
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But the reality is this Wallabies team, despite it also being in a development stage under Dave Rennie, should comfortably beat the French, who are coming off the world’s longest domestic campaign, which will only wrap up this weekend.
And after three frustrating draws in 2020, winning is exactly what Wisemantel wants.
In a refreshingly shrewd response, a far cry from the usual tripe about concentrating on the “process”, the Wallabies attack coach said success represented victory.
“I think winning, for a start,” he said.
“I think Australian rugby, we need to win.
“As a coaching staff, we’re under no illusions, there’s pressure. There’s always pressure when it’s Test match rugby.
“But apart from winning, we actually want blokes who are selected, we’d like to grow our base, so if there are some debutants in there, some young blokes, we need to equip them ready for Test match rugby so there’s greater competition into the next two years.”
Rugby Australia has been bleeding for years and only runs on the scoreboard can get fans and sponsors to take notice.
It is exactly why the RA board is divided on the best Super Rugby structure going forward because the trans-Tasman crossover competition saw the momentum gained from earlier in the season lost as Australia won just two of 25 matches against New Zealand opposition.
One thing France does have is depth and this tour, like it did for England in 2017 when they toured Argentina without the majority of their first XV because of Lions duty, will only help them in the long-term.
“I think they’re building their team now,” said Wallabies lock Sitaleki Timani, who is in line for his first international in more than 2,000 days having returned to Australia from France after seven years in the Top 14.
“A lot of young guys that haven’t played much and now they’re in the team. They’re looking ahead to the future.”
Few internationals, particularly when the Wallabies are playing, are anything other than tightly contested matches and physically France will match Rennie’s side.
For the first time in years, you could toss a coin over who will start for the Wallabies.
Only captain Michael Hooper, No.8 Harry Wilson, fullback Tom Banks, winger Marika Koroibete and playmaker James O’Connor are certain to start.
In particular, who joins Hunter Paisami in the midfield is intriguing, with Matt To’omua facing stiff competition from outside centre Len Ikitau, who Wisemantel raved about.
“Lenny Ikitau, he would beat you in a phone box,” Wisemantel said.
“He’s dynamic, he’s fantastic, so he’s a really good foil with Hunter in the centres.”
Wisemantel said the selectors, of which he is one, were using a gold, silver and bronze system of ranking players at each day of training to help determine who would ultimately be given a jersey.
“We’re actually seeing competition,” he said.
“It’s just coaches at the end of the day talking within each other. Whilst we have a blueprint of roughly what we think will be the 23, nothing is set in stone at this stage.
“The competition’s fierce.”
Timani, who is competing for a starting lock position alongside Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Matt Philip, said it was the hardest he had worked at training throughout his career.
“Throughout my whole career I haven’t had any training like this from 6am in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon,” he said.
“It’s a good learning for me too, there’s a lot of stuff that we need to go through as a team and get an understanding of what we need to achieve in a game, especially against the French.”