Former France captain Thierry Dusautoir fears the damage a physical Springboks could cause the hosts
Former France captain Thierry Dusautoir labelled South Africa as the worst possible quarter-final opponents for the hosts ahead of tonight’s seismic showdown at the Stade de France.
Dusautoir, 42, captained France to the World Cup final in 2011 and led his country to the quarter-final in 2015 but fears even if les Bleus emerge victorious on Sunday against the Springboks that the physical toll of what is set to be a colossal battle could derail their hopes of lifting the trophy.
South Africa’s defeat to Ireland and France’s clean sweep of Pool A has set up an intriguing clash in Paris with the defending champions aiming to send the host nation crashing out of their own tournament.
Why South Africa are worst possible opponents for France
“For me it’s the worst team we could have played at this moment of the World Cup,” Dusautoir said when speaking at the launch of the Rivals Les Bleus documentary exclusively on NZR+.
“I’m not saying Ireland would have been easier because they are two of the best teams in the world. But the point is the physicality of the South Africans. Even if we win this game, at what cost? Because you have two more games to play and it’s true that it’s in the South African rugby DNA to be physical and smash and hurt their opponents. I think we are able to win the game 100% but I’m wondering at what cost.”
France captain Antoine Dupont has been cleared to start just 17 days after he had surgery on a fractured cheekbone suffered against Namibia. The scrum-half is set to wear a headguard but Dusautoir is not concerned about his fitness, even suggesting the rest of the team can account for a slightly off the boil skipper.
“I’m not a doctor and if they say he’s able to play, we have to trust them,” said Dusautoir. “It won’t be easy. They know that he was injured. It’s normal for rugby at this level. He knows about his risk and what the South Africans will try and do to him.
“I think he’s mentally prepared to play this quarter-final. Even if we don’t have a 100% Dupont, we still have a really good team.”
The battle of the back-row is set to be one of the key areas where this game will be won and lost and Dusautoir admitted he did not expect to see South Africa select veteran Duane Vermeulen ahead of Jasper Wiese at No 8.
“I was surprised they changed the No 8, maybe they are looking for more experience. Both back-rows are really physical. I think the kicking game and these six players (across the back-row) are going to be the key of the game.”
South Africa have named a customary 5-3 bench split against France having gone for a forward-heavy Bomb Squad 7-1 set-up against Ireland but Dusautoir insists that will have no bearing on their renowned power game.
“Maybe they took lessons from the game against Ireland, they were not happy about the result and have come back with a more classical bench,” he added. “Whether it’s seven forwards or five forwards, it will still be a hard game. I’m not worried for the South Africans.”
Meanwhile, France have gone for a 6-2 split in theory, however Stade Francais flanker Sekou Macalou’s pace gives them extra versatility.
“You have to call Macalou a hybrid because he’s able to play as a winger, he’s really fast,” explained Dusautoir. “So I think they chose him thinking about this. He can play like a forward and a back, it could be the X-factor too with all the different styles; he could make a big difference on the pitch.
“South Africa have Kwagga Smith, he’s fast too and powerful. I really liked him against Tonga, I don’t think we speak enough about him because he’s a really good player.”
Both players wearing the No 6, Anthony Jelonch and Siya Kolisi, have raced back from serious knee injuries to be fit for the World Cup and Dusautoir believes Jelonch’s presence is a boon for his team-mate.
He added: “Anthony Jelonch made me think about Siya (Kolisi). I never thought they’d make it back to play at the World Cup and then play at this level. He’s really powerful, the best tackler with a big impact that’s really important.
“He started not being in the team but has put Francois Cros on the bench which is quite impressive. He gives a lot of confidence to other players.”