A Wallaby grand slam? Don’t make me laugh
Wallabies player Nick Phipps passes the ball. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
A little while back, the idea the Wallabies could pull off a grand slam on their coming spring tour would have met with gusts of merriment.
But after they held the All Blacks tryless in Brisbane, the laughter was a little more restrained. Maybe, many people felt, 80 minutes of iron defence, coupled with guts and determination, could also work against France, England, Italy and Wales.
(Incidentally, few think the All Blacks will be beaten on their tour, although certain Roarers may feel England has a shot at Twickenham. Similarly, the Springboks should be able to register a mini-slam, although the same Roarers will no doubt believe England will triumph against the Saffers.)
Back to the Wallabies and their first game. France in Paris.
My French pals, tragics all who are never without a copy of L’Equipe in their back pockets, tell me French coach Philippe Saint-Andre is delighted at the prospect of playing the Wallabies. Why? Because this time la chaussure will be on the other pied. This time, France is the team that has what the Wallabies had two years ago when Les Bleus haemorrhaged 59 points – dynamic backs.
Conversely, the Wallabies now have a solid scrum, but there are only two guys on the team with serious pace, Beale and Ioane. The midfield – McCabe/Ashley-Cooper or Tapuai – lacks penetration. And two of the back three, if it’s to be Harris and Cummins, don’t make Saint-Andre’s worry list. His team, on the other hand, has talent and speed to burn.
Starting with the 9 and 10 combo, half of France thinks it should be Racing’s Maxime Machenaud – good service, a threat to run and be man of the match on several occasions – and Freddie Michalak (yes, he’s back from the Sharks and playing very well for Toulon). Meanwhile, the other half favours the old firm of Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc.
The midfield could be electric if Saint-Andre mixes and matches Memoz, Fritz, Fofana (four tries in his first four Tests), and Gael Fickou, not yet 19, who has the best grubber-and-go since Jonathan Davies.
Out wide, Saint-Andre can choose between Clerc, Huget and big flyer Benjamin Fall. At 15 there’s the young Toulon player Vincent Martin and Castre’s Brice Dulin, both of whom have all the right moves.
As for the forwards, things also look good if you’re a French fan. Props like Nicholas Mas, David Attoub and Belgian-born Vincent Debaty who’s six foot three, 122 kgs. Dimitri Szarzewski, 53 caps, will start at hooker. But we won’t be seeing another teenager, Christopher Tolofua, who’s out for dangerous play.
Nor, alas, will we see Thierry Dusautoir who has a banged-up knee. But there are excellent flankers to fill in for him, like Pierrick Gunther, Fulgence Ouedraogo – the only man from Burkina Faso to play rep rugby, and still one of the fastest breakaways in the world – and Biarritz’s Wenceslas Lauret.
In the second row, Pascal Pape, who’ll captain the side, could partner with Toulouse star Yoan Maestri, standing six foot seven and 120 kgs. Pape isn’t tall as locks go but in open play he’s a Godzilla. At 8 is Louis Picamoles, the only man on the planet who comes close to Kieran Read. Harinordoquy is hurting and won’t be fit in time.
As of writing I don’t have the injury report from the weekend’s games, but it certainly looks like the French 22, come November 10, will have 15 first class starters and a second-half bench full of young tearaways.
So will the Wallabies, after flying all the way to Europe, take the field full of fire and brimstone and win at least the first leg of the grand slam? Or will 22 revenge-minded Frenchmen, plus 81,000 screaming compatriots, prove insurmountable?
What do Roarers think?
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