5 things about the France-Australia rugby test
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Australia plays its first rugby test of the year on Saturday in Brisbane against a France side with eight starters from the team which lost to champion Ireland in the final match of the Six Nations in March.
France has not beaten the Wallabies in Australia since 1990 and coach Philippe Saint-Andre says victory over the Wallabies would be an important one 15 months before the World Cup. The teams will play two more tests in Melbourne and Sydney on consecutive Saturdays.
Here are five things to know about Saturday’s opener:
DUBIOUS RECORD: The match is expected to set an attendance mark — for the smallest rugby test crowd at the 52,000-seat Suncorp Stadium. Queensland state fans are a loyal lot, and with Will Genia dropped, flyhalf Quade Cooper injured and only two Queenslanders in the starting side — prop James Slipper and second rower Rob Simmons, and with former captain James Horwill on the bench — a crowd of about 29,000 is being forecast for the match, 11,000 fewer than the previous lowest Wallabies crowd at the former Lang Park. The Queensland Reds’ poor record in Super 15 this season and the Bledisloe Cup which will sell out in Brisbane in October are being blamed for the lack of interest in the match.
NEW CAPTAINS: Both teams will have new captains, although France’s change came about through an injury to flanker and inspirational leader Thierry Dusautoir. He underwent surgery after tearing a bicep during the French Top 14. “He is not 100 percent yet so we prefer to give him one week off to be ready for the second test,” Saint-Andre said. Veteran prop Nicolas Mas will captain France while South African-born Bernard Le Roux replaces Dusautoir in the back row. Hooker and 91-test veteran Stephen Moore was named Wallabies captain for the three-test series, taking the leadership almost a decade after his Australia debut. He succeeds Ben Mowen, who relinquished the captaincy to continue his professional career in France.
HALF-CENTURY CAPS: No. 8 Wycliff Palu and prop James Slipper will play their 50th tests for the Wallabies in Saturday’s match. The injury-plagued Palu, stranded on 49 caps since last year’s British and Irish Lions series loss, was recruited from the National Rugby League’s St. George Illawarra Dragons in 2004 by current Australia coach Ewen McKenzie, who at the time was in charge of the New South Wales Waratahs. Slipper has missed only a handful of games since making his test debut a week after his 21st birthday in 2010, making him the youngest Wallaby since George Smith to reach 50 caps. “At 25, most test props are just making their debuts so I’ve been pretty fortunate,” Slipper said.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE: France coach Philippe Saint-Andre named Frederic Michalak at flyhalf. It is the first time since June 2013 that 68-cap veteran Michalak has been named as the starting flyhalf, although he played two tests off the bench last November. Michalak was left out of Toulon’s 23-man side for the Top 14 final which Toulon won 18-10 over Castres but remained in France to watch Jonny Wilkinson kick his team to victory in his final match. Saint-Andre said he was confident Michalak would overcome jet lag and three weeks without a game.
ROLLING THE DICE: Scrumhalf Nic White and flyhalf Bernard Foley were chosen in an unproven playmaking combination for the Wallabies as part of the team’s experimenting phase ahead of the World Cup. White will be starting a test for only the third time after playing against Argentina and South Africa during last year’s Rugby Championship, while Foley will make his first start in his five appearances for the Wallabies. Foley will also take on the goal-kicking duties after a prolific season for New South Wales, replacing injured No. 10 Cooper.