With even the rebuilding French confused about the style of play they are trying to adopt, the Wallabies admit they have little idea what to expect from Les Bleus in Saturday night’s rugby Test in Paris.
Since taking over from the conservative Bernard Laporte after last year’s World Cup, Marc Lievremont has sent out mixed signals to his charges.
Initially he told his team, which has an average age of 23, to attack from anywhere, any time, come what may.
Then he asked them to play with more structure and now – at least for France’s two most recent Tests – Lievremont instructed his troops to strike a balance between the traditional adlib style of rugby the French are famous for and a safety-first approach.
While Lievremont achieved the desired results with back-to-back wins over Argentina and the Pacific Islanders – an improvement on their three-from-five record during this year’s Six Nations tournament – French journalists say the players’ heads are completely muddled.
Hence why the Wallabies are unsure what to expect at Stade de France on Saturday.
“It’s always difficult to prepare for them because they can play that tight game with the forwards, but they’ve also got that flair with the backs,” said Wallabies five-eighth Matt Giteau.
“So, I mean, they’re always very unpredictable. It’s just, I think at home generally that stuff comes off for them, so we’ve just got to be wary of them.”
It has come off for the French on the last three occasions they have hosted the Wallabies.
Skipper Stirling Mortlock, flanker George Smith and reserve halfback Sam Cordingley are the only three survivors from the Wallabies’ last win over Les Bleus in France back in 2000.
“Playing France in France is always extremely tough,” Mortlock said.
“They are very proud about their rugby history and whenever they pull on that blue jersey, they wear it with a huge amount of dignity and respect and honour.
“So we’ve got no doubts about what’s in front of us. They’ve got the ability to play with typical French flair in attack, so good counter attack. Their outside backs have good pace and score tries.
“So there’s tests for us all over the paddock.”
The Wallabies scored an emphatic 2-0 series win over an understrength French outfit during the Australian winter, including a record 40-10 romp in Brisbane.
Giteau, though, said this time around the Wallabies are expecting a much tougher encounter.
“It was a different side and they were at a different stage of the year,” he said.
“Now they’re a lot fresher. Last time it was the end of a long season for them. I think a lot of them were mentally and physically tired.
“So it’s going to be a much tougher game.”
The Wallabies on Wednesday said halfback Luke Burgess should be fine to play, having improved significantly since having to sit out training on Wednesday because of the flu.