Australia warm-up a 'first step' to Rugby World Cup for Dupont's France

Tate McDermott made the first of his 25 Australia appearances in 2020 (Anne-Christine POUJOULAT)
Tate McDermott made the first of his 25 Australia appearances in 2020 (Anne-Christine POUJOULAT)

France captain Antoine Dupont said on Saturday that this weekend's Rugby World Cup warm-up with Australia is the "first step" towards next month's tournament opener.

Hosts Les Bleus face Australia on Sunday at the Stade de France in Paris, less than two weeks before welcoming three-time winners New Zealand to the same venue for the competition's first fixture on September 8.

"With the atmosphere it will be a first step towards the opening game," 26-year-old Dupont told reporters.

"We have to also focus on the present and the game tomorrow," he added.

Former World Rugby player of the year Dupont will partner Bordeaux-Begles' Matthieu Jalibert at half-back for the first time since November 2021.

France's usual fly-half Romain Ntamack, Dupont's Toulouse team-mate, has been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.

"It changes things a bit, they are two different players," Dupont said.

"He knows the project well, our system, the players, the system. I have no doubt over his ability to lead our game," he added.

On Friday, three-time winners New Zealand suffered a record 35-7 loss to World Cup holders South Africa in their final warm-up match.

The defeat came exactly two weeks before the competition's opener between the All Blacks and France.

"We've never made a special comment about other opposition and other warm-up matches," France team manager Raphael Ibanez told reporters.

"We won't start making comments like that now, we'll have the time to think about it in the future.

"We want to stay focused on the match tomorrow," he added.

- Drop of the hat -

Former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, who led his former side to the World Cup trophy in 2015, has been with the Wallabies squad this week as an unpaid consultant.

"He was very quiet this morning," Australia scrum-half Tate McDermott joked to reporters earlier on Saturday, hours after the heavy Springboks defeat.

"He's very experienced in the World Cup arena and that's where we've picked his brain," he added.

La Rochelle's 145kg lock Will Skelton will lead the visitors for the first time this weekend against four of his club team-mates.

Skelton, 31, was selected as skipper for the World Cup ahead of experienced flanker Michael Hooper, whom head coach Eddie Jones omitted from the squad in a huge surprise.

"He's a special leader," McDermott said of Skelton.

"Because he doesn't speak as much as your traditional leaders, when he speaks he has the whole room at the drop of the hat.

"I can't wait for tomorrow to support him," he added.