South Africa's director of rugby praised their quarter-final opponents for being clever

South Africa’s Rassie Erasmus accused France of being clever by simulating after high tackles to flag them to referees, raising the temperature ahead of this weekend’s quarter-final clash in Paris.

The Springboks’ director of rugby handed Sunday’s opponents a backhanded compliment by suggesting his side respected them and that it would be one of the toughest challenges of his coaching career to break down Shaun Edwards’s defence before focusing on their behaviour after potential foul play.

Read more: “Italy robbed” as Ferrari clear-out controversially denies him try v France

In France’s last match against Italy, Antoine Dupont’s injury replacement Maxime Lucu was criticised for clutching his face after a clear-out from Simone Ferrari. That incident occurred a few phases before Ferrari scored but the TMO subsequently disallowed the try and awarded France a penalty for what was controversially deemed a dangerous clear-out.

On social media, it was described as an “embarrassing dive” and Lucu was accused of “absolutely milking that penalty” while others said rugby was turning into football where players are looking to get other players sent off.

Erasmus said: “I think the French are not playing a reckless game where they are on the edge of being too physical or (making) high hits. I think what they do do well is that when they get close to the high hits, they really show that to the referee. I think they do simulate sometimes a little bit which is clever. 

“Obviously sometimes when the ref comms go down or the TV doesn’t work at that specific time, I think they are very clever at that and very good at that. But they are not a team that are on the dangerous edge, they don’t fixate on scrums and mauls they just physically man-up. They are the kind of team that we respect and want to play against.”

Related: South Africa Rugby World Cup squad

Thibaud Flament was up for France media duties after Erasmus’s comments but denied there was any specific ploy in place, saying: “It’s not something I’ve really noticed. I think all teams seem to do it. It’s not something we prepare specifically or try and do. I don’t think it’s something that characterises our play.”

The Lucu incident is not the first time France have been embroiled in a “play-acting” controversy. Australia’s Marika Koroibete was sent off for a high tackle on Anthony Jelonch during France’s tour Down Under in 2021 but the back-rower’s subsequent actions were called into question by then Wallaby coach Dave Rennie.

After the collision, Jelonch dropped to the ground in dramatic style, clutching his face. And Rennie said: “It was terribly milked, wasn’t it?

“He obviously feels he got some head contact and then he’s grabbed his face which is nowhere near the (point) of impact and then it’s delayed by five seconds.”

Erasmus said he expects to face a fully-fit Dupont at the Stade de France after Fabien Galthié’s captain returned to full contact training after being given the all-clear by his surgeon following the fractured cheekbone he suffered against Namibia.

“I think a lack of fitness won’t be a problem with him. I have actually never seen him sweat on the field, he’s so emotionless when he plays,” said Erasmus. “He always looks so in control, obviously him being the captain. The whole country of France, the whole world has respect for him.

“I broke my jaw three times and you can actually get leaner because you can’t eat (as well). The next thing is you can run, he is definitely a guy that who is not afraid to tackle, he’s a guy whose kicking and passing is still (good). he’s a guy when he goes into a Test match he’ll still do his tackles because it has been three weeks, his surgeon cleared him. I have no doubt he will play and (it) will be a big challenge for us to try and contain.”

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