Sunday evening will see Paris play host to a last-eight matchup that looks set to be contested with all the ferocity and quality of a final as hosts France square off against Webb Ellis Cup holders South Africa.
France came through the pool stages with a 100% record having started their tournament with a comprehensive win over the All Blacks in Paris. A surprisingly narrow victory against Uruguay may have knocked a lesser side off their stride, but not Fabien Galthié’s France, who rounded off the stage with a record 96-0 win against Namibia and their largest ever Test victory against Six Nations rivals Italy.
South Africa won three of their four pool games, with their only defeat coming via an agonisingly close contest with Ireland in what was perhaps the match of the tournament so far. South Africa’s physicality was on full strength that day despite defeat, with their 30 dominant tackles made in that game being the highest in a Tier 1 match since Opta have recorded that data (2010).
The two sides have had differing fortunes in their last couple of quarter-final appearances, with France having lost the past two (vs New Zealand in 2015 and vs Wales in 2019) and the Springboks winning both (vs Wales in 2015 and vs Japan in 2019). Home advantage could well be the deciding factor, with Les Bleus’ current streak of 18 wins on home soil being their longest ever run; however, South Africa have won each of their last three Tests against the French in the Stade de France.
Route to the knockouts
- Won 27-13 vs New Zealand
- Won 27-12 vs Uruguay
- Won 96-0 vs Namibia
- Won 60-7 vs Italy
- Won 18-3 vs Scotland
- Won 76-0 vs Romania
- Lost 8-13 vs Ireland
- Won 49-18 vs Tonga
France and South Africa both tend to come out of the blocks flying; only New Zealand (8) have scored more tries in the opening 20 minutes of their games than France or South Africa (6 each), with the Springboks also being one of three sides yet to concede a try in the opening quarter.
Both sides are also clinical in the opposition 22, averaging 3.32 and 3.22 points per visit respectively. The two sides are likely to find that average drop though, as they are also the only two teams to have conceded a point or fewer on average per opposition entry into their own 22. Overall, the Springboks have conceded just four tries, while France have conceded only five.
France’s lineout has been functioning superbly, with Les Bleus being one of three teams to have retained possession from over 90% of their own throws (92%). They’ve used their lineout as a platform to cross the try line with great regularity, scoring 12 tries off the back of lineouts thus far. You can find out more insights like these via our Stats Hub.
As with New Zealand and Ireland, it’s difficult to find any significant chinks in either France or South Africa’s armour, but that’s to be expected given the calibre of this fixture.
As many predicted, France have been almost flawless in the execution of their gameplan, and while they struggled over the finish line against Uruguay, it’s worth noting that was with a very different line-up to the one they’ve named against South Africa. France, however, have had issues disrupting their opponents’ ruck, allowing their teams to recycle the ball in 3.1 seconds on average – only Romania, who finished rock-bottom of Pool B and suffered a 76-0 loss to South Africa, allowed their opponents to complete their rucks more quickly during the pool stages.
One area that the Springboks have uncharacteristically struggled in is the scrum, with their 85% success rate being the lowest of any quarter-final nation. Additionally, the Springboks have conceded six scrum penalties so far and could come unstuck against a French pack that has won 14 at scrum time, more than any other nation. South Africa have also encountered problems with place-kicking, with their 60% success rate from the tee in the pool stages being the second lowest of any side, only above Chile. The return to fitness of Handrè Pollard could help to alleviate that issue. However, he will have to wait for his chance, with Jacques Nienaber opting to start Manie Libbok against the French.
A brief look at the scoring charts will reveal two of France’s key players, with Thomas Ramos having scored more points than any other player during the pool stages (61), while teammate Damian Penaud is the competition’s top try scorer (6). Romain Ntamack’s absence was a big talking point in the build-up to the tournament; however, Matthieu Jalibert has proved a more than capable replacement, registering five try assists during the pool stages, the joint third most of any player.
Jalibert will be joined once again by his half-back partner Antoine Dupont, who surely needs no introduction at this stage – Dupont has gained over 100 more metres (342) and provided at least five more try assists (11) than any other Tier 1 scrum-half in Test rugby this year. Dupont was a doubt for this match, and indeed the rest of the tournament after sustaining a fractured cheekbone against Namibia but has managed to recover in time to start this crucial showdown, much to the delight of French fans and neutrals alike.
His opposite number on the South African side will be Cobus Reinach, who has been selected to start ahead of Faf de Klerk. Reinach is the top-scoring scrum-half in this year’s Rugby World Cup, having crossed the line four times, including three times in the opening 24 minutes against Romania during their Pool B encounter, the second-quickest hat-trick in World Cup history. In case you’re wondering who could have possibly scored a faster hat-trick, it was Reinach himself, against Canada in 2019 (21 minutes). He is just at good at distributing the ball as he is at running with it; his 99% pass accuracy rate is the second best of any player to have attempted 40+ passes in the tournament.
In the second row, Eben Etzebeth will look to disrupt both in the air and on the ground – only Georgia’s Tornike Jalagonia has made more dominant tackles than the Springboks lock. Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith are both set to feature as part of South Africa’s fabled bomb squad and will certainly cause France trouble in the latter stages, having each won four jackal turnovers so far, more than any other players from a quarter-final side.
France vs South Africa prediction
Win prediction: France 55.3% – Draw 0.9% – South Africa 43.8%.
Score prediction: France 24-22 South Africa
The Opta supercomputer reckons this one is going to be close. France are just about favourites, though, predicted to win by a slender two points.
France vs South Africa Lineups
France 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont (c); 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 3 Uini Atonio, 4 Cameron Woki, 5 Thibaud Flament, 6 Anthony Jelonch, 7 Charles Ollivon, 8 Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Francois Cros, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Yoram Moefana.
South Africa 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach; 1 Steven Kitshoff, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Willie Le Roux.