I never make predictions about rugby games, as the game is, almost by definition, unpredictable (just look at the shape of the ball!), especially between two nations whose levels are similar but whose styles and strong points are quite different. This is especially the case for this evening's test match between France and Australia.
I will be going to this game, which will be held in Paris under very cold weather conditions. The thermometer will probabaly be around 0° when the game is due to start at 20h45. I would say that this factor should favour the French team, who are more used to such weather conditions, and of course are playing at home.
All commentators have lauded the Australians' play from the back line, which is full of young talent, as well as their excellent third line in the scrum. France has a front five that should make mincemeat of the Australian scrum, but their backs have lacked singularly in terms of cohesion and creativity on their previous two tests, even if they have a couple of players with huge experience, like Jauzion and Traille.
My feeling is that the key to the game will be in the turnovers and therefore lie with the third row of the scrum, as well as with the creative capacity of the backs. Here are some of the key players, in my opinion :
Sébastien Chabal, number 8
Not because he is a planetary rugby phemomenon, but because the French coach has finally decided to let him play where he is at his best, at number 8. His capacity to sift the ball from a probably dominant French scrum, and do so quickly, could be a key element in tonights's game.
Thierry Dusautoir, the French captain and flanker
A captain's role is often crucial in a close game, and Dusautoir is also in a key position for tonights's game, where he will have to counter the redoutable David Pocock in the rucks. He has proved his worth many times, especially against the sternest opposition (eg. the All Blacks in the 2007 world cup quarter final).
Alexis Palisson, winger
I would have preferred to show a photograph of the new French full-back, Jérôme Porical, who is extremely promising, but who does not yet have an international career that results in his photograph being available on the web site Sporting Heroes, source of all these photographs. Palisson and Porical both epitomise the young genration of French back players whose task will be crucial tonight, in providing both adequate defense and inspired attack to defeat the redoutable backs from down under as thoroughly as the English did 2 weeks ago, by outplaying them in every way.
Qade Cooper, fly-half
NZ-born Cooper is, for me, the most creative fly-half in international rugby, even if he lacks the experience (and capacity to kick the ball in all circumstances) of Dan Carter. He could be the one to destabilize the French defense, and his speed will be essential (as that of the excellent Wallaby scrum-half, Will Genia) to dynamise the balls that the Australian scrum manages to keep.
Will Genia, scrum-half
See above. With Qade Cooper, this is a pair to watch as they play together a lot, and are fast and creative.
David Pocock, open-side flanker
This very young player impresses me a lot. He used to played centre back, and so has speed. In modern rugby terms, he is not very tall (about 6 foot+) , but look at the strength in his arms. This guy puts his head where few others would dare to go with any part of their body, and is able to recuperate balls that he turns around real fast for his backs. A key play, along with the captain Rocky Elsom, who also has a fair turn of speed and who plays alongside Pocock in the back row of the scrum.
Wait and see....