Rugby-Wallabies primed for understrength France in series opener

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FILE PHOTO: Six Nations Championship - France v Wales
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By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Wallabies will be confident of beating an understrength France side fresh out of quarantine in Brisbane on Wednesday but they would do well to remember Argentina's remarkable campaign in Australia last year.

United by the bonds forged in a grim period of isolation, the Pumas stormed out of the traps in their Tri-Nations opener to record their first ever victory over the All Blacks before holding the Wallabies to two draws.

France are not renowned tourists and have brought a weakened squad to Australia but there can be little doubt they will be similarly desperate to get out onto the field and play after two weeks cooped up in a Sydney hotel.

In the absence of those who featured in the Top 14 final, coach Fabien Galthie has named seven uncapped players in his matchday 23 with fullback Melvyn Jaminet and hooker Gaetan Barlot in the starting side.

"We think they're the best team we've got, the most competitive side that we can take to Brisbane in two days," said Galthie.

"Australia will try to bring a lot of intensity. They will try to dominate us physically. They think we're going to watch them play."

Galthie has named only two backs on his bench and the Wallabies pack can expect the French to meet fire with fire in the forward battle.

By contrast with France's hotel car park training pitch, the Wallabies have been preparing for the three-test series in secluded luxury on the Gold Coast.

It has been no holiday camp, however, as coach Dave Rennie has been working to get his players to the level of fitness he believes is required to compete with the world's best teams.

The New Zealander has gone for heft in his pack but was forced to pick the inexperienced Noah Lolesio at flyhalf with James O'Connor sidelined by injury.

Rennie said selecting the 21-year-old for his second test start was "a pretty easy choice".

"He's a confident kid, he's prepared to boss the big boys around," he told reporters on Monday.

"(He has the) ability to play flat and on top of defences (and) he's put a lot of focus on his general kicking game, and his goal kicking has been excellent."

With restrictions eased in Brisbane last weekend, there will be a crowd at Lang Park for the first meeting between the nations since 2016, and the first since Galthie was charged with building a team for France's hosting of the World Cup in 2023.

"The goal now is to turn this issue into an opportunity," said France's team manager Raphael Ibanez.

"But we believe we have enough talent to match the best."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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