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Redemption swansong chance for France

Rugby XV aim to make it proud week for Stade de France in year's last Test but Springboks have good memories there too.

Last updated: 22 Nov 2013 15:14
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Algeria-born Sofiane Guitoune, left, was a tryscorer on debut last week against Tonga [Reuters]

Believers in the supernatural say that the residue of great events can be left behind in the places they occurred.

We might usually think of this as ghosts haunting the site where they were murdered. But could the rule also apply to modern all-seater stadia?

Anyone of a superstitious bent in the French rugby XV might hope so.

The pitch of the Stade de France is hallowed ground right now – at least for supporters of the French football team.

Rarely loved, rarely loud, the national stadium was a cauldron of noise on Tuesday as French boots tore across the turf to put three goals past Ukraine and qualify for next year's World Cup in Brazil.

Now the field stands empty, save for the attentions of the groundsman.

But 15 much more solid pairs of gallic boots will be planted there on Saturday, when the tricolore flags will be back in the hope that national pride in the rugby team can also be redeemed in the last Test of the year.

It's been a bad year, especially for a French team who were World Cup finalists two years ago.

Malaise

Four straight defeats to New Zealand is nothing to be too ashamed about, given the total superiority displayed by the world champions in that same timeframe.

But only two wins in their last 10 matches speaks of a malaise that may need something special to cure. If that can come against South Africa on Saturday, it could help exorcise the ghosts of 2013.

Eye of the cheetah: Habana will be back at the Stade de France six years after winning the World Cup there [AFP]

"It's going to be a huge fight against the second-best team in the world," France coach Philippe Saint-André said on Thursday as he named largely the same line-up that came close to a result against the All Blacks two weeks ago.

"We tried to pick the most coherent team possible with a few distinctive features to suit the South Africans.

"They (the Springboks) are hearty lads, they're up for a fight and very strong in one-on-one situations. So we tried to mix pace and power."

Pace comes in the form of Sofiane Guitone, who scored in the win over Tonga last week on his debut.

He'll have his work cut out this weekend though, with the spectre of Bryan Habana looming large over his preparations.

The Springboks have some even friendlier ghosts of the past to greet them when they arrive in Saint-Denis, despite not having recorded victory against France on French soil in 16 years.

Habana was the star of the tournament when South Africa beat England to lift the World Cup the last time they were at the Stade de France, in 2007, and is likely to be opposite Algeria-born Guitone on the Springbok wing.

"It's up to him to show he's up to the task," said Saint-André.

Four other players from the 2007 triumph will also feature for the visitors, who have had an opposite year to that experienced by France, losing just two of 11 Tests in 2013 – both to the All Blacks.

"If we win in Paris it will give us an 80 percent-plusrecord for the year and there have not been many occasions whenthe Boks have managed that in the post-isolation era, so I will be very happy with that," coach Heyneke Meyer said.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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