France are looking for a face-saving series-levelling win against the Wallabies with massive team changes for the second Test in Melbourne on Saturday.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre reacted to last week’s 50-23 hammering in Brisbane by making 10 changes, including the return of skipper Thierry Dusautoir and powerhouse centre Mathieu Bastareaud.
Saint-Andre said the tourists were “ashamed” and mentally scarred by their seven-try trouncing which keeps the French without a win in Australia for 24 years.
Les Bleus need to win in Melbourne to take the series to a decider in Sydney on June 21.
Saint-Andre is expecting a big reversal in form from his team against the Wallabies, who have made three injury-enforced changes to their starting XV.
“We were all ashamed, going down by 27 points is never pleasant. There have been talks because that game left physical and mental scars,” he said.
“We have prepared ourselves for a big game, a big fight.”
Much will rest on the inspirational leadership of Dusautoir and the thrust of Bastareaud, rated as one of the most physically dominant “gain-line yardage makers” in world rugby.
“Thierry (Dusautoir) will bring an enormous amount of experience, stability and fighting spirit to the group,” Saint-Andre said.
Among the best flankers in the world, Dusautoir won the 2011 player of the year award for an inspirational display in Les Bleus’ 8-7 World Cup final loss to the All Blacks in New Zealand, but he has struggled to reach full fitness after a bicep injury.
Former Australian captain and centre Stirling Mortlock rates Bastareaud as a dangerous addition to the French backline.
“He is one of the most physically dominant gain-line yardage makers in world rugby … and with Wesley Fofana at inside-centre they will be a totally different midfield and a significantly tougher job to mark,” Mortlock said.
Wallabies backline veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper said rushing defence will be needed to keep Bastareaud and Fofana in check.
“They will be looking to feed off his (Bastareaud’s) ascendency through the midfield,” he said.
“It’s a tough task for our midfield defensively but hopefully we don’t give him too much time and space.”
– Mobile half-backs –
French halves Maxime Machenaud and Frederic Michalak have been replaced by the more mobile Morgan Parra and Remi Tales, who played together in last yearâ€™s November Tests.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has made three injury-enforced changes and named flanker Michael Hooper as one of Australia’s youngest-ever captains.
Veteran hooker Stephen Moore (knee), lock Sam Carter (ankle) and back-row forward Wycliff Palu (ankle) are out.
Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau replaces Moore, lock James Horwill comes in for Carter for his 50th cap and Western Force workhorse Ben McCalman will wear the No 8 jersey.
“France is one of the few one teams in the world who can make a lot of changes and still turn things around quickly in one week,” McKenzie said.
“They never stay down for long and will be using the disappointment of the opening Test to motivate them for the second game.”
Hooper takes the reins at the age of 22 with Moore out for the rest of the year with a cruciate knee ligament injury.
He is the fourth youngest captain in Wallabies’ history, behind Jimmy Flynn (20), Trevor Allan (21) and Ken Catchpole (21).
“It’s a massive honour to captain your country and I’m confident Michael has all the right leadership qualities to lead this team moving forward,” McKenzie said.
“I couldn’t have been more impressed with his performance on the weekend after Stephen went down, so we know the added responsibility won’t impact the high-level of play we all expect from him each week.”