France’s rugby team are now officially at rock bottom. If ever there was a misguided scoreline it was the 26-14 defeat that Ireland inflicted on France on Sunday afternoon. Ireland left at least 20 points out there if not more. With a bonus point in the bag early in the second half Ireland perhaps understandably lost their focus. The likes of Jonny Sexton, Conor Murray and Cian Healy took their leave with Wales in mind in a week’s time.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) March 10, 2019
The French team were awful, disinterested and completely bereft of a game plan. For a once mighty rugby nation France’s performances in this year’s Six Nations have been awful other than the Scottish game.
Jacques Brunel under massive pressure
Everyone is to blame for the demise of the French national team and unfortunately that includes Jacques Brunel, the coach. The writing was surely on the wall towards the end of the calamitous defeat to Wales on the opening weekend.
When asked by referee Wayne Barnes on what his decision was, French second rower Sebastien Vahaamahina said, ‘address the captain’. Barnes diplomatically stated that he was the captain (Guirado had been replaced) but the France’s management had not told Vahaamahina that he was the vice captain. Remember, this is the first game of the 2019 Six Nations in front of a packed Stade de France. Even in school rugby you have an assigned vice captain.
So many questions around the set-up
Of course it is not just about the confusion of who is the vice captain which is bringing down French rugby. But, it does emphatically bring home just how disorganised the entire France rugby set-up is. There seems to be absolutely no alignment between players and management.
So, it begs the question of what exactly happens when the French players go into camp? We know that the French rugby clubs hold the power over their players and ultimately the FFR (Fédération Française de Rugby) and there has to be a compromise. Regularly the likes of captain Guilhem Guirado are turning out for Toulon after a bruising encounter in a test match. Players seem to be tired, demotivated and out of condition.
Rudderless on and off the field
The leaders in the team like Guirado, Louis Picamoles and Mathieu Bastareaud have to step up. They are good players, sometimes seriously good, but their leadership has been missing on the field. One has to feel sorry for Guirado who has been the one consistent performer in the French team for a long time now. He looks short of his usual gallop and should have a rest before the World Cup. Guirado has manfully stepped up for a horribly under-performing Toulon on countless occasions and he looks exhausted. Camille Chat, the Racing 92 hooker, should start against Italy.
France are on the brink of another player revolt after Morgan Parra and other senior figures blamed Jacques Brunel, the head coach, for their 44-8 defeat by England, reports @AlexMLowe https://t.co/60vNRC0RDB
— Times Sport (@TimesSport) February 11, 2019
The cases of Picamoles and Bastareaud are more complex. When they are both in the mood they are world class. In fairness to Bastareaud he was one of the best for France against Ireland. So often their inspirational passages are sporadic and inconsistent – much like the France rugby team.
Dupont, Ramos and Bamba have to be guided
The likes of Picamoles and Bastareaud have to guide the genuine talent that France do have in their artillery. With no game plan, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack looked like the boys they are and not the special men they could be. Dupont by the way was magnificently tireless on Sunday which could not be said for most of his team mates.
Unquestionably French rugby has the talent to bounce back. If you include the enormous Demba Bamba and Thomas Ramos, France already have a nucleus of players who should be around for the next decade. These youngsters need the experienced players to guide them in the brutal world of international rugby.
Italy can beat France
Italy have been copping it from all angles after their struggles but at least they have shown that they care. They have a wonderful opportunity to end their streak of 21 successive losses to Six Nations opposition next Saturday lunchtime. Italy may have been thrashed again at Twickenham but they showed passion and commitment. The Azzuri have patched together periods of dominance in their Six Nations campaign and definitely have a chance against France.
Sergio Parisse has one more massive Six Nations performance in him and what better occasion to do it, than against France. Parisse has served Stade Francais with distinction for the last 14 years and has made Paris his home – he deserves to end his Six Nations career with a win.
France in need of a total overall
Whatever the result, it will be likely that Jacques Brunel will not last until the World Cup. If France are to salvage something from this campaign it is to have a set of players who are entirely committed to the cause. It may mean some big names associated with French rugby are jettisoned but something has to change and quick. On Sunday, too many players looked disengaged and not fit for international rugby and that is unacceptable.
Outsider help urgently needed
There are two other suggested changes that are near nigh impossible but very necessary. The first is that the FFR and the Top 14 need to engage in sensible conversations. It means that the clubs and more specifically the club owners have to try and work with the FFR. The exodus of players from the southern hemisphere continue to arrive in the French leagues – put simply, it is still killing the French national team. Yes, financial controls and quotas are being integrated but the fact remains that foreigners are still coming into the Top 14 with regularity.
The second suggestion is to bring in outsider help and expertise. Within the FFR’s administration and the coaching team. It probably won’t happen but it should in France’s case. Ideally you want your own countrymen leading the team but that isn’t the reality in this rugby age. Take Eddie Jones and England – it may be not ideal but it basically works. There is an urgent need for new ideas, structure and above all, expertise. Someone like a Sir Clive Woodward? The remit should start with a squad of players who are totally committed to taking France forward as a team. A game plan would help as well. These are desperate times within France rugby and desperate measures are required.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images