There is no chance of Wallabies rookie Will Skelton slipping under the radar of the French in the third Test of the series in Sydney on Saturday afternoon because of his lack of international experience.
The 140-kilogram and 203-centimetre second-rower has been in France’s sights for some time, according to French coach Philippe Saint-Andre at the Thursday announcement of his team to play the Wallabies at Allianz Stadium.
Saint-Andre said he had watched Skelton play Super Rugby for the Waratahs.
“I saw him. I was very impressed because he looked like a giant,” Saint-Andre said of Skelton, whose selection was one of two changes to the Wallabies starting side that beat France 6-0 on Saturday – Wycliff Palu’s return from an ankle injury to No.8 being the other.
“We know he is strong, powerful and he will bring much more power in the pack with the No.8 [Palu].
“We need to be focused to play, to play a good game and find some solution. They have more power, but I think he [Skelton] will lift [in the lineouts] rather than jump because he is very, very heavy.
“To be honest, we know this player because we watch Super [Rugby], but we are more focused about our players and our team and our game plan and our organisation than about the Australian team.”
Saint-Andre has made two changes to the French side that played last week in Melbourne.
In the back row, Fulgence Ouedraogo returns to the side for his ball-carrying ability at No.7, meaning captain Thierry Dusautoir will shift to No.6 and Yannick Nyanga drops to the bench.
In the backs, Hugo Bonneval, who played full-back in the first Test, which France lost 50-23, has been picked on the wing for his speed and finishing prowess. He replaces Maxime Medard.
While France have lost the series, there is still the lure of claiming their first win against the Wallabies in Australia since 1990.
A win would also be the best way to celebrate Dusautoir’s record 43rd captaincy, superseding the reign of retired Fabien Pelous.
But it is a tall order, with the French tired and facing a side Saint-Andre admires for its speed and athleticism.
Saint Andre conceded his selection of six back-rowers in his 23 reflected a concern for Australia’s mobility at the breakdown, saying when asked: “Yeah … a little bit, a little bit.”
But he said it was also to cover for the greater time the ball is in play in a Test against sides conditioned by the speed of Super Rugby.
“It’s always like this … first Test is a big shock for our players because game time in the Top 14 is around 25 to 26 minutes, and in internationals it is 38 to 40 minutes,” he said.
“It is a big, big gap or big difference. Our Top 14 is very physical, very strong, but it is not as quick as an international game.
“And when we play against Australia, you know they like a tempo game, they like a quick game.”
France: 15. B Dulin, 14. Y Huget, 13 M Bastareaud, 12. W Fofana, 11. H Bonneval, 10. R Tales, 9. M Parra, 8. D Chouly, 7. F Ouedraogo, 6. T Dusautoir (c), 5. Y Maestri, 4. A Flanquart, 3. R Slimani, 2. G Guirado, 1. A Menini, Res: 16. C Tolofua, 17. V Debaty, 18. N Mas, 19. B Le Roux, 20. L Picamoles, 21. Y Nyanga, 22. M Machenaud, 23. R Lamerat.