Home ground advantage will swing Saturday’s one-off test against the French the way of the home team in Cape Town.
Is this French team good enough to beat the Boks? For sure.
Will they beat the Boks? Unlikely.
All indications from within the French camp are that they are pysched for the test. They want to give teammate, the South African-born Pieter de Villiers, a memorable occasion after the frontranker spent the week mourning the death of his younger brother. The French, it is said, have something to play for. The emotion, so necessary when France turn it on, is said to be there.
The Boks, though, also have something to play for. Individually, De Wet Barry and Pedrie Wannenburg are playing for their test careers and continued involvement in the World Cup plans. Barry has in the past produced inspirational one-off performances and that is why he has been picked to terrorise the French. His strength, his rush defence, can also be his vulnerability as he has been culpable of rushing out of line. New Zealand a few years ago took him out of the game by skipping the inside centre and setting up their plays from the outside centre channel. France may just have studied that tape.
Barry remains a factor at Newlands, where his defence will be critical to the Boks’ ability to force the irrational out of the French attack.
The Boks don’t lose easily at home. They have not lost in 13 matches and going unbeaten in 14 I am told is a new record. It is a different record, in my opinion, but it does not compare with those teams who won 13 successive times at home. This Bok side won six, then drew one which broke the winning sequence. They now have six wins in succession again and are playing for number seven.
The unbeaten home run has become an obsession within the squad when it should really be a matter of course. The All Blacks have won 18 in succession at home and have lost just three times in five years at home. Quality teams like New Zealand and South Africa are expected to win at home.
It would take a special effort from the French to beat a Bok team that has structure, is well organised and is well coached. But if one team can produce that something special it is France.
My hunch is they won’t be able to because their pack won’t get the momentum that turns their back division from solid into spectacular.
France, by all accounts, believe that playing a conservative game against the Boks gives them more of a chance. They were hurt in Durban and Port Elizabeth last year by intercepts and breakaway tries, all a result of their own mistakes on attack.
Bok coach Jake White is comfortable if a conservative French side arrives because he believes he has a pack that can’t be troubled by the visitors. The loss of Schalk Burger cannot be underestimated. His ability to slow ball down at the breakdown and to commit two and three defenders to the ruck won’t be replaced. None in the Bok loose-trio can play that kind of game. None of the current loose-forwards can keep two or three Frenchmen busy at ruck time. And not one of the loose-forwards reads the game as well as Burger.
The Boks, without Burger, are like the All Blacks without McCaw. Both teams lose intensity at the breakdown. We saw how average the Boks were against the Pumas last year when Burger warmed the bench. And in the second 40 we saw his impact.
To win, the Boks are going to have to produce a team effort similar to the one we saw in Port Elizabeth a yea ago when the Boks pulverised the French 27-13.
They are going to have to put France under pressure for 80 minutes and this unrelenting intensity will cause the visitors to self-destruct.
There will be life after Schalk Burger, but Saturday will give us an indication of the quality of life we can expect for the rest of the international season.
The bones’s call: Boks by 15 and Habana to get two seven pointers on the break!
In other tests, Australia will be too clinical for Ireland and the All Blacks will win narrowly in Buenos Aires, although the best result for the game would be a first ever Pumas win against the All Blacks.
As for the Baby Boks … victory against host France … and by more than the four points they got in the league win against them a week ago.