Matthieu Jalibert admitted the return of talismanic captain Antoine Dupont has given France a huge boost ahead of Sunday’s mouth-watering World Cup quarter-final against defending champions South Africa in Paris.
The 26-year-old scrum-half will lead Les Bleus into their last-eight tie just over three weeks after suffering a broken cheekbone against Namibia that placed his remaining involvement in the tournament in jeopardy.
Stand-off Jalibert is relishing the prospect of having his half-back partner back alongside him as he believes Dupont’s presence will give the Boks something extra to worry about.
“The whole team is very happy to have him back,” said Jalibert. “We’re happy to have him with us, knowing that he’ll be able to start this quarter-final. It’s always a pleasure to play with him. It’s easy to adapt to his game and to play alongside him.
“It gives us a lot of confidence. We know he’s capable of making a big difference, and that he inspires fear in opponents.
“It gives us more space around him. It’s always an asset to have him with us. Even if he’s wearing a scrum-cap, he’s at 100 per cent of his ability.”
In addition to having their on-field leader back, the French are drawing inspiration from the backing of a partisan home support.
The South Africans revealed this week that they have been training with noise coming through the speakers to simulate the effects of the French crowd in order to reduce the chances of being intimidated when they run out at a packed Stade de France.
Les Bleus have not lost on home soil since being defeated by Scotland behind closed doors in the Six Nations two and a half years ago and full-back Thomas Ramos is “not surprised” their opponents are taking measures to counter the impact of what is sure to be an intoxicating atmosphere.
“The South Africans remember Marseille last year,” he said, referencing Les Bleus’ 30-26 victory in November. “The atmosphere was incredible. There was a lot of noise.
“It was almost impossible to hear each other on the pitch. That’s what they remember, and they must have seen the games against New Zealand (on the opening night of the World Cup) and in the Six Nations.
“The atmosphere is expected to be strong from the French public. It’s no surprise that South Africa train with a lot of noise.”
After the tournament began amid a late-summer heat wave last month, temperatures are notably cooler in the French capital this weekend.
“It doesn’t necessarily change anything,” Ramos said of the more autumnal conditions. “It might be a bit better.
“The conditions will be different, but it will help us feel better throughout the match.”
With the two sides barely separable in the top three of the world rankings, French team manager Raphael Ibanez is hoping home advantage gives Les Bleus a slight edge as they bid to eliminate the three-time winners.
“It’s a big game,” said Ibanez. “Playing South Africa, who won the competition four years ago, at the Stade de France in the final stages in front of our home crowd, we couldn’t dream of anything better.
“I think that we have an advantage, playing at Stade de France, in front of a public that will be there to support and encourage us.”