Reigning Rugby World Cup champions South Africa will square off with tournament hosts France in what has the makings of an explosive quarterfinal match-up.
On paper, these are the two most physical teams in the competition, with each team possessing dominant packs and physical ball-carrying centres.
Yet, despite their clear strengths lying in the physical departments, both sides have game-breakers across the park. These star players are capable of turning a fixture with a moment of brilliance.
Headlining the threats across both sides is returning French captain Antoine Dupont, who had surgery on a broken cheekbone just twenty days ago.
When fit, Dupont is arguably the best player in the world. Seemingly always in the right place at the right time, the scrumhalf is the cog that makes the French attack click.
Words From The Camps
Speaking ahead of his return, Dupont clearly understood how resilient his team will need to be if they hope to end the Springboks reign.
“In these matches, there is always pain, physical or mental. We have to be ready to suffer. If we’re not ready for this, we won’t go where we want to go,” Dupont said.
“It [the injury] shows that I’ve gained experience and that I know how to adapt to the opponent and to what’s in front of me.
“If there’s less space in front of me, it’s because there’s more elsewhere. We have to adapt to what’s on offer and look for space wherever we can find it.”
On the other side, Springbok assistant coach Felix Jones looked back on the last time the two sides as an indicator of what will be in store this evening.
“Both teams learnt a lot. It was an incredible match, the atmosphere was unbelievable,” Jones said.
“The physicality levels were incredible. Both teams really played well on the night, and at the end of it, it was one score that divided the teams.
“I am sure both teams will come up with plans to do something slightly different or do again whatever was effective in that game and vice-versa, the other team trying to counteract that. It’s going to be really interesting.”
There are several intriguing head-to-heads across the board but one area that stands above the rest is the battle of the number eights.
This head-to-head pits an all-time great in Duane Vermeulen against a man who, if he hasn’t already, will be joining him atop the mountain in Gregory Alldritt.
Having captained his club La Rochelle to consecutive Heineken Champions Cup titles over the past two years, the 26-year-old Alldritt is a key leader in the French pack. At 6’4″ and 115kg, Alldritt’s power in the carry has proven to be a crucial platform setter for the potent French attack.
On the other hand, Vermeulen is not quite as dynamic as he once was, which is hardly surprising given he is now 37 years old. However, what the veteran lacks in zip, he makes up for in smarts, in particular around the ruck, where he is an absolute menace. At the line-out, he remains a favourite option for the Bok throwers as a safety net jumper.
As was the case with last night’s quarterfinal at the Stade de France, this fixture is very much a coin flip. Yesterday’s clash was rarely separated by much, and this evening should be no different.
One factor that will be significant is the home crowd, who will certainly outnumber the visitors significantly.
Notoriously vocal, the French fans are far and away the most patient in the international game and will ensure there is a cauldron-like atmosphere. Any Springbok mistake or referee decision that goes against them, and the boos, hisses, and cheers will rain down.
On the playing front, Dupont’s return cannot be overemphasized, as his presence alone takes the French up a notch. Key to this is of course, whether he is close to fully fit, which will be something the Springbok pack will likely test from the first minute.
Making a case for the visitors, the fact that they have been there and done that, is a real feather in their cap. Doing it in an unorthodox manner back in 2019, having lost their opening pool match. The Boks will simply not be feeling the same level of pressure as their hosts, who have the weight of an eight-year build-up on their shoulders.
In what will be a tense occasion, the French fairytale will continue albeit narrowly and will set them on the path for a likely re-match with the All Blacks in the final. A final, they will be more confident of winning than this evening’s match. France by 6.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont (c), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Thibaud Flmanet, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Francois Cros, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Yoram Moefana
South Africa:15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Willie le Roux
Date: Sunday, October
Venue: Stade de France, Saint-Denis
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)