Israel Folau will be looking to carry his devastating Super Rugby form into the three-Test series against France in June, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The hard-running fullback has played an integral role in the Waratahs' climb up the Super Rugby table as part of a backline brimming with confidence.
Australian rugby has endured a difficult period of late, but they looked to have turned a corner during their end-of-year tour. The French find themselves at a similar crossroads after finishing fourth in this season's Six Nations.
Philippe Saint-André has struggled with consistency in selection and his inability to pick players who featured in last weekend's Top 14 final certainly hasn't helped matters ahead of the first Test. He will also be without his inspirational captain Thierry Dusautoir, who will be rested for the match at Suncorp Stadium.
In all, he has made eight changes to the side that went down 22-20 to Ireland in the final match of the Six Nations. Up front, Guilhem Guirado is at hooker, Sébastien Vahaamahina at No 4 lock and Bernard le Roux and Fulgence Ouedraogo on the flanks. In the backline Frédéric Michalak will start at flyhalf, despite playing only a bit-part role for Toulon in recent weeks. Felix le Bourhis will make his debut on the left wing, while Wesley Fofana replaces Mathieu Bastareaud, with Gaël Fickou shifting to outside centre and Hugo Bonneval at fullback.
Meanwhile, Stephen Moore will captain the Wallabies after Ben Mowen announced his intentions to make the move to France at the conclusion of the Super Rugby season. His place in the team is taken by Wycliff Palu in one of two changes to the forward pack from their victory over Scotland at the end of last season. The other sees Sam Carter make his debut in place of the ousted James Horwill, who drops to the bench. The backline reflects the form players in this season's Super Rugby tournament. The Wallabies will field a new halfback combination in Nic White and Bernard Foley, while Brumbies duo Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani will form yet another midfield combination. Nick Cummins will start on the left wing and Adam Ashley-Cooper on the right.
The French have not won in Australia since 1990, a team that featured current coach Saint-André. However, they were victorious in the last meeting between the two, claiming a 33-6 victory in Paris thanks, in part, to 15 points from the boot of Michalak.
HEAD TO HEAD STATS
Overall: Australia 23, France 17, Draws 2
In Australia: Australia 14, France 4, Draws 1
FOLAU'S STATS THAT MATTER
15 – The number of Test matches he's played
10 – The number of Test tries he's scored
11 – The number of tries he's scored in Super Rugby this season
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Peku, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 James Horwill, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Pat McCabe.
France – 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Felix le Bourhis, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Nicolas Mas (c), 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Subs: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Remi Lamerat, 23 Brice Dulin.
Photo: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images