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Australia rugby captain expects fired-up France

Australian rugby captain Michael Hooper expects France to be fired-up for Saturday's one-off test match in Paris after a series of defeats at Aussie hands this summer, he said on Friday.

Australia rugby captain expects fired-up France
France's head coach Philippe Saint Andre (C) supervises training in preparation for the November test matches. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

France lost all three test matches against the Wallabies on their June tour, twice being humbled by thorough thrashings, including one in which they conceded seven tries in a 50-23 rout in Brisbane, in which they only managed to garner a measure of respectability after scoring two late tries.

Les Bleus also lost 39-13 in Sydney, while their 6-0 defeat in Melbourne in a dire match which saw 53 scoreless minutes before a couple of Wallaby penalties, was another embarrassment.

But Hooper believes they will be a different proposition on home turf at the Stade de France.

"We know that the French will be a completely different outfit from the June series," said the captain – who is openside flanker for Super XV champions the Waratahs.

"We're excited to come here, we had the pleasure of playing them in our own backyard and now we've got to come over and do it here playing in this magnificent stadium and magnificent place in Paris.

"We're looking forward to it being a really tough battle because, to be honest, that's what the team needs."

He also expects Philippe Saint-Andre's side to continue to play the free-flowing, running rugby they produced in last weekend's 40-15 victory over Fiji in Marseille.

"We expect them to be open; the French show you many different things," added the 23-year-old.

"You've got to be prepared for that, you've got to adapt on the field and something the French do is they do play a great expansive game. They're great with their offloads, they've got big ball carriers and are solid in defence, and we've got to try to minimise that.

Stressful

"It's going to be tough to do because here in their backyard when the fans get cheering, they really get their tails up."

As for his own team, Hooper said they would not be quite as gung-ho as in their last two matches – a 40-36 win over the Barbarians at Twickenham and a 33-28 success against Wales in Cardiff. They scored nine tries and conceded as many over the two games.

"It's not the best way to do it, it makes it very stressful in a game. Probably our focus on from last week [against Wales] is you want to be able to score points and then exit well and put the pressure straight back on them.

"That's something we didn't do well last week and it ended up coming back down to the wire. For us it will be about getting points and taking pressure straight off our back when receiving the kick."

One of the players who impressed for France against Fiji was South African-born full-back Scott Spedding, who created two tries on his debut.

But Hooper admitted that is a name which is new to his team.

"Obviously we've seen what he did against Fiji so it's in the front of our minds how he can play," said Hooper.

"It's tough to face guys who are in really good form, so for us its something we've got to keep an eye out on."

But it is the French old guard that most concerns the Wallaby captain.

"Across their back line – [Wesley] Fofana, [Yoann] Huget – they're all really solid, devastating players when they're on and they've got a really big forward pack.

"Our forward pack's going to be tested over the course of this trip and it's something we've got to be ready for tomorrow [Saturday] night because it starts here and we know we've got a big battle ahead."

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French government: All athletes must be vaccinated to compete in France

All athletes and sports professionals who wish to compete in France will have to be vaccinated against Covid-19, government sources told AFP on Monday.

Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic
Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic. Photo: Oscar del Polzo/AFP

The French parliament has just given the go-ahead for the health pass to be converted into a vaccine pass, which means that anyone wishing to enter leisure and cultural venues – including sports grounds and stadiums – will have to be vaccinated.

This goes for the crowd, but also professional sports players and staff. The government has indicated that exemptions will not be made athletes who are based outside France.

The ministry said a new vaccine pass, “applies to everyone, to volunteers and to elite sportspeople, including those coming from abroad, until further notice.”

READ ALSO What changes when France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass

Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu said last week that certain events like the French Open could have a special exemption, when asked whether Novak Djokovic could play in the tournament, but this appears now to not be the case.

Questions had been asked about whether the unvaccinated Djokivic – recently deported from Australia – would be able to play in the French Open in May, but the ruling would affect all visiting sports professionals, including rugby teams from England, Ireland and Italy who are due to play in France during the Six Nations tournament in February and March.

Until now a health pass has been sufficient to enter sports grounds, which means unvaccinated players and fans were able to use a negative Covid test.

However once the vaccine pass enters into effect – scheduled to be later this week – only proof of vaccination will be affected.

French domestic sports teams were given the choice of either making sure that all their players and staff were fully vaccinated or playing behind closed doors.

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