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Roosters or feather dusters

If there is one thing of which we can all be certain about Les Bleus, it is that nothing is certain.

A romantic might even suggest their National Rugby team thrives on its own eccentricities, often forging a false air of security.

To illustrate, French coach Philippe Saint-Andre reasoned that fly half maverick Freddie Michalak, who arrived on Tuesday, would not be disadvantaged because he got used to jetlag when playing Super XV for the Sharks.

Quite clearly the adjustments required for all that extensive travel around the southern hemisphere back in 2011 have him primed for lift-off at Suncorp Stadium. Really?

Decisive irrationalism perhaps best portrays the whims and wherefores of French Rugby.  For example, on my first Wallaby tour of France, nearly forty years ago, they replaced captain and scrum half Richard Astre after winning the First Test in Bordeaux.

In came Jacques Fouroux who was also installed as the new skipper and guess what? It worked! The French demolished Australia by 34-6 in a sublime display of awesome forward power and exquisite backline interplay.

That side incidentally went on to handsomely win the Grand Slam the following year spearheaded by the legendary backrow of  Jean-Pierre Rives, Claude Skrela and Jean-Pierre Bastiat.

Jacques Fouroux
 

French legend Fouroux in action against Wales in 1974

 

Glorious uncertainty is the tried and tested imprimatur of French Rugby. In the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup, they were almost torpedoed out of the tournament in a pulsating Quarter Final against Fiji.

Indeed if Fijian fly half Severo Koraduadua had not dropped the ball cold in the final quarter, (he was holding it in one hand at the time with no-one within cooee and the line ahead) the Wallabies in all probability would have played the All Blacks in the Final at Eden Park two weeks later.

Instead they were confined to a losing Bronze Medal Playoff against Wales after unpredictable France went toe to toe with Alan Jones’ men in the Semi at downtown Concord Oval.  Serge Blanco ultimately broke Aussie hearts with his thrilling last gasp try in the corner.

Australia v France
 

Serge Blanco and that try 1987

In 1989, the ABC dispatched me to cover the Wallaby tour of France and both Tests were televised live to Australia for the first time. The first up win in Strasbourg was epic. Rookie centre pairing of Tim Horan and Jason Little starred in a dominant performance.

As a consequence of that defeat, the majority of Les Bleus could easily have been sent packing across the German border to the Black Forest because they were suddenly surplus to requirements for the Second Test in Lille.

Incredibly, France made nine changes in a selection that was widely condemned by the international media. Who won? L’Equipe de France of course! To this day, I cannot believe Australia lost that game. Nor can the players!

French Rugby history is laced with epic and stoic performances against the odds. The triumphant tour of South Africa in the mid seventies, that stupendous last ditch ‘Try from the end of the earth’ at Eden Park to sink the All Blacks in 1994.

That surreal second half to K.O. NZ in the 1999 RWC Semi-Final at Twickenham. Same again in the Quarter Final of the 2007 RWC against the Men in Black with Thierry Dusautoir effecting more tackles than most of the Kiwi forwards combined.

New Zealand v France
 

New Zealand v France 1999

The lesson from all of the aforementioned detail is that we should never underestimate the French XV.  That point certainly won’t be lost on Wallaby mentor Ewen McKenzie who played against them and coached at Stade Francais.

Michalak’s selection is a pointer to a more expansive game from the tourists. He is a superb creator when the pack goes forward.

There were signs of things to come in the Six Nations’ decider against Ireland as the backs were finally given licence to show their wares. And in youngsters Wesley Fofana and Gael Fickou, they already have their own Horan/Little combo.

New skipper Nicholas Mas is the only survivor from the RWC Final starting XV three years ago.  That says something about the current instability of French Rugby but historically it also sends a warning to those who dismiss these Frenchmen.

The Wallabies should get home in a hard fought contest but expect some rust given the limited preparation.  Stephen Moore is an inspired selection as skipper and will help this squad  develop a more ruthless approach with greater self belief.

However if the Aussies do go one up in the series, don’t be surprised if France rolls out eight or nine changes for Melbourne. It is the French way  - c’est la vie!

Gordon Bray is TEN Sport's chief rugby caller and will be joined by Wallaby legends  Matt Burke and Stirling Mortlock for the live broadcast from 7.30pm Saturday AEST.