Saturday November 23, 3 PM Eastern – Stade de France, Paris

This is the match that everyone is waiting for. I cannot wait to see these two packs do battle. Over the years, France has deservedly developed a reputation for being a very inconsistent side. The French have produced forwards and backs of the highest quality, and are capable of playing both a tight, forward-oriented game, as well as an expansive attacking game. The question Saturday, as always, is: which France is going to show up? Historically, France has the best record of any of the European teams against perennial powerhouse New Zealand, and pushed the All Blacks all the way in a losing effort two weeks ago. But Les Bleus are also capable of losing to much weaker teams – for example, Tonga beat them in the group stage of the most recent Rugby World Cup.

The Springboks of South Africa are known for their extreme physicality and uncompromising approach. They tend to rely heavily on their forwards and their tactical kicking – a style which has frequently been criticized as boring. But it is certainly effective – South Africa has won two World Cups and has an immensely proud rugby history. Recently, the Springboks have been playing with a bit more adventure, making use of incredibly talented backs like Willie le Roux and Bryan Habana. Habana was the 2007 International Rugby Board (IRB) Player of the Year, and has recently rediscovered something close to his best form.

South Africa has been playing some incredible rugby this year, and they are stacked with talent throughout the team. The back row of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen might be the best in the world. Vermeulen is the second-best number 8 in the world behind New Zealand’s Kieran Read, and the margin between them is fairly slim. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis is the best in the world at his position – Australia’s Stephen Moore and Wales’ Richard Hibbard are wonderful players, but for my money, they are not quite in du Plessis’ league. Du Plessis plays like a fourth back-rower, and one thing you can always count on is that South Africa will be ruthless at the breakdown.

In the backs, South African captain and inside center Jean de Villiers is a natural rugby player and just exudes class. Outside him is one of the strongest ball-carrying outside centers in the world, Jaque Fourie.  One negative for the Boks is that they will be without scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who has been in excellent form. Ruan Pienaar will start in his place.

It will take a Herculean effort for France to beat South Africa, even at home – I really believe the Boks are that good. As a neutral, I hope French captain Thierry Dusautoir has rallied his troops and that they take the game to South Africa from the first minute. If that happens, we are in for a real treat, a brutal game of rugby. I can’t quite see France pulling it off though. South Africa by 3



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