Why the Wallabies are now favourites against France


I suspect France will field weaker teams in Tests one and two, then throw in all their best available players off a four-day break for the third match at Suncorp Stadium.

There will inevitably be a lack of cohesion, while the Wallabies could potentially have close to four weeks of preparation going into the first Test if no Australian sides make the final of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

Australia should be trying to blast France off the park by playing their best team possible in Sydney and Melbourne, with a six-day break in between, and hope they’ve locked the series up.

While the Europeans’ preparation will be compromised, it would also not surprise to see France produce something special and blow Australia away. They’re that enigmatic.

At the 1999 World Cup, I was in the New Zealand team that lost to France 43-31 in the semi-final. Looking back, it’s all the more remarkable given that four months earlier we thumped them 54-7 in Wellington. At Twickenham, we led 24-10 after 44 minutes, before a 30-minute blitz saw France score 33 unanswered points and send us packing.

In February of 2020, France knocked off England, who’d made a World Cup final three months earlier, with a team of nobodies. They have an innate ability to produce incredible performances.

They can beat the reigning world champions by 30 points, then lose to a tier-two nation a week later.

Fraser McReight of Reds celebrates after  beating the Brumbies earlier this year.

Fraser McReight of Reds celebrates after beating the Brumbies earlier this year.Credit:Getty

However, if it was a Wallabies and France World Cup final tomorrow and all players were available, with adequate preparation, I think Les Bleus would get the job done. Just.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the form of promising Wallabies players in Super Rugby. They’re really benefiting from the derby system and a condensed Super Rugby format before Kiwi games kick-off next week.

Should Australia be blooding players in this France series? Not necessarily.

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While nations all now operate in four-year World Cup cycles, with just over two years to go there is still plenty of time to integrate new players and game plans in a team environment.

Even if some players are close to their expiry date and won’t make it to France in 2023, who cares. Momentum is imperative.

By the same token, three Tests in such quick succession means you’re going to have to change your team.

I’d give Queensland No.7 Fraser McReight his first start. He has the sort of relentless approach needed to be a top-class on-baller. He’s constantly on the go, chasing everything down, being a nuisance and possesses an enthusiastic attitude that is invaluable.

The same goes for playmaker Noah Lolesio, who, after a tough debut against New Zealand in Sydney, has rebounded well this season. His goalkicking is good and he’s been assured. You can’t think of many glaring errors he’s made and that’s reasonably unusual for a No.10.

As for the Wednesday (Sydney) and Tuesday (Melbourne) evening matches, think of it like this: rugby won’t be up against the NRL and AFL. It’s quite possible you can get an even broader audience who are quite keen to watch international sport when they don’t have their usual fix.

I can’t wait.

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