French high on motivation for Wallabies clash
France will have one eye on the future and one on the past when it takes on injury-hit Australia in their test on Saturday.
France is desperate for revenge after being thrashed by Australia two years ago, and need the victory to boost its chances of being among the four top-seeded teams at the next World Cup in 2015.
"It's a great challenge for us to play Australia, the best there is after the All Blacks," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "The squad has been very receptive, but the truth is out on the pitch."
The November tests determine the world rankings for the World Cup pool draw next month. The fight is on among the Six Nations sides to secure the fourth spot and avoid the southern superpowers in the World Cup group stage. Precious little separates No 4 England, No 5 France and No 6 Wales.
The Wallabies are the only top three side on France's schedule this month, and it will start a new halves pair of scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud and flyhalf Frederic Michalak. They have played together only once before, against Argentina in June, when Machenaud made his debut and Michalak played his 56th test.
Saint-Andre overlooked the more experienced Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra, who were paired at last year's World Cup and for several Six Nations games.
Michalak was out of favour under former coach Marc Lievremont but has been in good form for Toulon.
For Australia, prop Sekope Kepu and lock Kane Douglas are the only two changes from the 18-18 draw with New Zealand nearly three weeks ago.
Winger Digby Ioane (knee), flanker David Pocock (knee), prop Ben Alexander (wrist) and lock Sitaleki Timani (lower back) are recovering from injuries.
"Certainly we have more competition for places now than we have had at times previously, and that's only going to help drive standards and performance," Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said.
"The playing group are excited and they are looking forward to the game. The atmosphere at the Stade de France is always fantastic and the crowd vociferous: It's a great place to play the game."
Australia silenced the Stade de France crowd in 2010 in humiliating France 59-16 and blowing the French apart in a destructive second-half performance after the teams went in at the break at 13-13.
"The players really want to go for it," Saint-Andre said. "But there's a bit of fear as well, and that's normal."
France has also innovated with its backline, with Brice Dulin making only his third appearance at fullback and the tough-tackling Florian Fritz getting another chance in midfield alongside Maxime Mermoz. Vincent Clerc, the top scorer in the Top 14 this season, is on the right wing, while the explosive Wesley Fofana switches from outside centre to left wing.
One major absence for France is flanker and inspirational captain Thierry Dusautoir, who is injured and replaced by Yannick Nyanga, another player who was overlooked by Lievremont, and last played for France in 2007.
"Yannick will be in Thierry's role and it's up to him to get as much ball off the Australians as possible," Saint-Andre said.
Australia has won 23 of their matches, France 16, and two have been drawn. But the Wallabies are bidding for their sixth consecutive win dating to 2008. Another win on Saturday would match their best winning sequence against France, from 1993-2000.
"They are probably the most technically assured team around," Clerc said. "Their attacking moves are well oiled. Everything's done to perfection, to the millimeter."
Australia had three days of training together in Sydney prior to its departure, and on Thursday completed its third session in Paris.
"Obviously you adjust things a little bit to cater for a particular opposition, but we have had the benefit of some continuity leading into this match," Deans said. "There was a lot of good stuff to come out of our last outing, but there were also plenty of things that we could have done better."
Australia has been in patchy form and injuries have taken their toll. Lock Nathan Sharpe is their fourth captain this year, and he was supposed to retire a few months ago.
Deans took a lot of heart from Australia's recent performance against the All Blacks, but feels the team still needs to finish better.
"While the effort of the players couldn't be faulted, the accuracy of our execution failed us at times, and will need to be better for the challenges ahead if we are to achieve the consistency of performance we are seeking," he said.
France: Brice Dulin, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Maxime Mermoz, Vincent Clerc, Frederic Michalak, Maxime Machenaud; Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yannick Nyanga, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Yannick Forestier. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo, Vincent Debaty, Jocelino Suta, Damien Chouly, Morgan Parra, Francois Trinh-Duc, Yoann Huget.
Australia: Mike Harris, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Pat McCabe, Nick Cummins, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps; Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Paddy Ryan, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Berrick Barnes.