Wallabies wary of young and hungry France

·3-min read

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is under no illusions that his side have their work cut out against a young French team, despite Les Bleus missing key players and having been confined to 14 days' quarantine.

The two teams kick off the first of three Tests over 11 days at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday with both eager to prove their credentials.

It will be Australia's opening Test of the season after just one win from six in an erratic 2020 under new coach Dave Rennie, while France's inexperienced squad will be desperate to impress boss Fabien Galthie.

Hooper, who is back on home soil after a stint playing in Japan, said he was wary of the unpredictability of a team with seven rookies in their matchday 23.

"They're going to come out firing, we know that," the 105-Test flanker said Tuesday. "We know they have been nothing but quality in the Six Nations with some of the firepower they have across the park.

"It's going to be a great little series, and a challenging series given it's three games in 10 or 11 days," he added.

Rennie is cautious of France on the counter-attack and off the turnover.

"It's a very strong squad, maybe not all household names to people in this part of the world," he said. "Sometimes younger guys are hungrier, desperate to impress and can be more of a handful."

Galthie, who is missing a host of regulars, including those from Top 14 finalists Toulouse and La Rochelle, has seven uncapped players in his squad, five on the bench.

They include Melvyn Jaminet, a fullback with no top-flight experience, with only winger Damian Penaud, centre Arthur Vincent and stand-in captain Anthony Jelonch remaining in the starting line-up from the last round of the Six Nations, a loss to Scotland in March.

- Massive challenge -

Team manager and former captain Raphael Ibanez admitted having such an inexperienced touring party was "a massive challenge", but "we believe they have enough talent to match the best".

"I know Australia want to play physical, fast and aggressive rugby and we'll be ready for that, we're looking forward to this challenge as a team," he added.

Despite being allowed to train during their lockdown, Ibanez said it had hampered their preparations, although Hooper saw it differently, suggesting it could work in France's favour.

"It's a pretty good camp environment, quarantine. You're on top of each other, you have no external distractions," he said.

"It is tricky, but being on top of each other can usually breed some good bonds and it forces guys to spend time in the team."

Australia go into the clash without veteran back James O'Connor, who is injured, but bolstered by playmaker Matt To'omua recovering from a neck strain.

He will reignite his partnership with Hunter Paisami while Jake Gordon steps in for injured scrum-half Nic White, who has been ruled out for the series.

Noah Lolesio will wear the No.10 jersey in the absence of O'Connor while Tom Banks, Tom Wright and Marika Koroibete form the back three.

Up front, loosehead prop James Slipper will play his 101st Test alongside fellow veteran Hooper.

They have four uncapped players on the bench -- Lachlan Lonergan, Darcy Swain, Len Ikitau and Andrew Kellaway.

Australia (15-1):

Tom Banks; Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Matt To'omua, Marika Koroibete; Noah Lolesio, Jake Gordon; Harry Wilson, Michael Hooper (capt), Rob Valetini; Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Matt Philip; Allan Alaalatoa, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, James Slipper

Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Darcy Swain, Isi Naisarani, Tate McDermott, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway

France (15-1)

Melvyn Jaminet; Damian Penaud, Arthur Vincent, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere; Louis Carbonel, Baptiste Couilloud; Sekou Macalou, Anthony Jelonch (capt), Dylan Cretin; Romain Taofifenua, Killian Geraci; Demba Bamba, Gaetan Barlot, Jean-Baptiste Gros

Substitutes: Anthony Etrillard, Quentin Walcker, Sipili Falatea, Florent Vanverberghe, Baptiste Pesenti, Cameron Woki, Teddy Iribaren, Anthony Bouthier