Victor Matfield has warned his South Africa teammates that the battle of the breakdown will be crucial when they host France in Cape Town today. The Springboks host the Six Nations champions at Newlands on the back of their 34-31 win against Wales in Cardiff last weekend, and the Pretoria Bulls second row is expecting another stern examination.
"This is a very big game," he told the South African Rugby Union website. "The French are up there with the leading teams in the world and while we've not been very successful against them of late, it's nice to play them in South Africa for a change. Our preparation has been good and we're looking forward to the Test. "Everyone always talks about the French flair, but they are also a very physical side. Their basics are very good and they are good at the breakdown - we'll have to be at the top of our game and compete there."
Matfield, one of eight players who have kept their place from last week's Millennium Stadium victory, is widely acknowledged to be the best lock forward in world rugby, but he believes he will have his hands full against the French duo of Lionel Nallet and Romain Millo-Chluski. "We will try and attack them at the line-out," he continued. "But they are also one of the best lineout teams and they tend to do things differently to most others. Hopefully we can steal a few balls off them."
France have won the last three meetings between the two sides, including a 20-13 victory in Toulouse in November, and Marc Lievremont, the coach, will hand a Test debut to Wenceslas Lauret but has stuck with the majority of the side who secured the Grand Slam with victory over England in Paris in March. And Les Bleus' coach admits it will be a tough ask for his side to claim victory at the end of a long season.
"It is a very important game for us, especially at this part of the season when the players are not so fresh," he said. "It is always a big challenge playing a team from the southern hemisphere in June. "The Springboks beat Wales on line-outs and it will be a very difficult battle stopping the Springboks setting up mauls from the line-outs." Meanwhile, Will Genia was so desperate to be involved against England today that he spent all week imploring Robbie Deans, the Australia coach, to throw him straight back into the team following a knee ligament injury.
Deans resisted the immediate temptation but England will be well aware of the impact Genia could make off the bench after his starring performance at Twickenham in November. Genia, who was 15 when England beat the Wallabies to win the 2003 World Cup, was surprised that Martin Johnson, the England team manager, had opted to retain Toby Flood at fly-half ahead of Jonny Wilkinson. "I've been watching some of Jonny's recent games with the French club, and he's been performing well. It's like Daniel Carter. When he is playing for the All Blacks, they are a much better team," he said.
Australia head into the game hampered by front-row injuries and disrupted by yesterday's late withdrawal of Matt Giteau, their inside centre, who failed to shake off a hip injury. Steve Thompson, the England hooker, has warned the fresh-faced Australia front row to prepare for a buffeting in Perth. Thompson, England's battle-hardened front-rower, is relishing the chance to pack down against the Australian rookies alongside Dan Cole, the destructive Leicester tighthead.
"Dan has got world class written all over him. He is an outstanding player," Thompson said. "He looks a lot older than he is. He is getting bigger, stronger and better and he is one of those players you are looking forward to playing with. I have been very impressed. He was one of the finds of the Six Nations and that includes all the teams. "People were critical of him in the France match but for me he did nothing wrong in that first half, he scrummaged well and when he came back on in the second half he showed what he can do."