Cape Town – The Springboks will look to end France’s 11-match winning streak when they lock horns at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille tonight (10pm SA time kick-off).
Here are five key player match-ups that can decide the result…
Kurt-Lee Arendse v Damian Penaud
If you’re not sure what Arendse can expect from Penaud, just watch last week’s dramatic end between France and Australia. The French No 14 produced a Cheslin Kolbe-type finish as he danced past Tom Wright and then handed off Jock Campbell to score the winning try.
He has the magic to unlock the Bok defence … but so does Arendse. The Bulls star is as quick as any other player, and he will hope to get much more ball than he did against Ireland.
Arendse will have to be alert to bring down Penaud, chase those inevitable boxkicks and help out Willie le Roux at the back. But he must be given the licence to take on Penaud himself…
Damian Willemse v Romain Ntamack
The pressure has been heaped on Willemse after he held onto the No 10 jersey this week despite not having the best outing against Ireland. Manie Libbok is on the bench and is ready to come in if his Stormers teammate battles once more.
But Willemse – who has been relieved of the goal-kicking duties, with Kolbe taking over – needs to put the Dublin performance behind him and produce the kind of rugby that he has previously. That means taking charge of the Bok attack by creating space for his outside backs, taking on the French defence himself, and winning territory with the boot.
Ntamack is one of the poster boys of this French outfit, but didn’t have his best game against Australia last week, and that
is something Willemse must exploit.
Faf de Klerk v Antoine Dupont
Dupont is regarded as the best player in the world at the moment, but was largely shut down by the Wallabies last week.
He is the heart and soul of the French attack – everything revolves around his decision-making on whether to keep the ball with the forwards or allow the backs to have a go.
But if any Bok scrumhalf can disrupt his game, it is De Klerk. The blond-haired No 9 will feel that he has a point to prove to the Bok coaches as Jaden Hendrikse has been the preferred halfback for most of 2022.
As much as De Klerk wants to mark Dupont, though, he needs to keep his composure and ensure that his service from the base gives Willemse and the forwards an opportunity to do their thing.
Kwagga Smith v Gregory Alldritt
The late withdrawal of Jasper Wiese (concussion) saw Smith move up into the starting line-up yesterday. And while he is a very different type of player, Smith’s attributes could disrupt France’s plans to deal with the Bok loose trio.
The former Lions stalwart is quick across the ground and runs good lines with ball-in-hand, while he goes in hard at the breakdowns as well, and could help to slow down France’s possession on attack.
But Alldritt is a classic No 8 who is an excellent lineout jumper, carries strongly and has a massive work-rate around the pitch, and he will keep Smith busy as well.
Ox Nche v Uini Atonio
New Zealand- born tighthead Atonio weighs in at a whopping 152kg and stands 1.97m tall. Nche is on the opposite end of the scale at 114kg and 1.73m – but don’t let those numbers fool you.
Loosehead props like nothing more than to get underneath a tall tighthead, and Nche has the power and technique to do just that against Atonio.
But the French No 3 is a big unit, so Nche needs to get onto the right side of English referee Wayne Barnes’ whistle at scrum-time.