France aim to end bad year on a high
France are aiming to end a miserable year on a high note with a fifth straight home win against South Africa in Paris on Saturday and build momentum for the Six Nations Championship.
<i>Les Bleus</i> have won only two matches this year, and finished last in the Six Nations before losing four consecutive matches against New Zealand.
While last weekend's 38-18 win over Tonga boosted morale, that performance was littered with missed tackles and the French will not get away with that against Heyneke Meyer's well-drilled Springbok side.
"It would be good for the confidence of the team to finish 2013 well because we're starting 2014 with two home games and England and Italy," said France coach Philippe Saint-André .
"It will be a tough arm wrestle and we can't let go. Coaching will be important against South Africa and we'll need the 23 players, especially the tight five."
France will need a strong performance to contain a Springboks side which has the size advantage in the pack and is rock-solid in defence, outscoring Wales and Scotland 7-0 in tries in their past two games.
"We know we'll have to be strong defensively and make sure we put them down in the first tackle," said Saint-André.
"We know what to expect. We have to be ready tactically and mentally."
Refreshingly, Saint-André has stuck with the same halves pairing for the third straight game - with scrum-half Morgan Parra alongside the imaginative Remi Tales.
"They are growing in confidence, they're getting to know each other," added Saint-André.
"They made real progress against Tonga. We know how important a halfback pairing is in terms of communication."
France defended sloppily at times against an extremely physical Tonga side and Saint-André is keen to iron out those mistakes.
"This morning the whole training session was geared toward defence and tackling," he said.
"We know we can't miss 30 tackles like we did against Tonga but our tackling percentage against New Zealand was very high. We'll need the same ferocity and intensity to beat the South Africans."
That largely explains why he recalled center Florian Fritz.
"We know how much Florian wants to win the challenges both going forward and in defence," he explained.
"Knowing what a battle it will be in midfield against South Africa we chose Florian to play alongside Wesley (Fofana), and we also have Mathieu Bastareaud on the bench."
Four years ago, France dominated South Africa in the scrum in a 20-13 win in Toulouse and went on to win the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2010. They last met at Cape Town in June, 2010, with South Africa outscoring France 5-2 in tries and winning 42-17.