France wrapped up the group stage with a 60-7 drubbing of Italy on Friday to move into the knockout round as Pool A winners – but the next test on their World Cup journey will be as hard as they come.
Les Bleus now have a week to prepare for their meeting with the Springboks, which the French coach Fabien Galthié described as a “World Cup final”.
South Africa came second in Group B behind Ireland, who will face New Zealand in another epic quarter-final next week after defeating Scotland 36-14 on Saturday.
France and the Springboks last met in Marseille last November, with the French battling to a narrow 30-26 win.
Astonishingly, this will be their first World Cup clash since 1995, when South Africa prevailed in a hard-fought semi-final on home soil (19-15).
France’s eight-try win over Italy was as comfortable as Galthié could have expected with a fast start taking his team to a 24-0 lead inside 22 minutes, effectively erasing the possibility of an Italian upset.
It concluded a strong pool phase for the tournament hosts, which started with a dazzling victory over the All Blacks in the tournament’s curtain raiser.
“After a first ‘World Cup final’ against New Zealand, our match next weekend will be a second ‘World Cup final’, clearly,” Galthié told reporters after the Italy game.
The French coach said he was happy with how his team’s defence was progressing, complimenting the way his forwards set a platform for “permanent pressure” on the Italians.
Time and again, however, he returned to the magnitude of next Sunday’s quarter-final at the Stade de France.
“South Africa are world champions and have clearly been preparing to win back-to-back titles,” he said.
Galthié made scant reference to injured scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, who fractured his eye socket in the Namibia win, saying only that every injured player in his squad was there because he expected them to be available again.
There were few words of praise for individuals, even winger Damian Penaud who scored the 34th and 35th five-pointers of his career to move into second place on the list of most prolific French try-scorers behind the great Serge Blanco (38).
“The winger is the last link in a chain. It’s easy to congratulate Damian but the great players are always served by their teams,” Galthié, a former scrumhalf and France captain, said.
“In the last four years, we’ve had a lot of players improving but it’s always on the back of the team.”
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