France’s performances during this Rugby World Cup campaign have been underwhelming, to say the least. They were lucky to win against Argentina, were at times absent against the US Eagles and Tonga nearly pipped them on Sunday.
And yet, as we all know, France seem to save up one mighty performance. The fact that England is their opponents on Saturday, even more so. Charlie Inglefied warns that England may not have it their own way.
We have been here before
France has a history of fooling even the best teams in the world. The 2011 World Cup campaign was utterly chaotic under the command of Marc Lièvremont.
There was outright mutiny between the players and the coaches. Somehow they got through their pool despite losing to Tonga and New Zealand. Then came the old enemy, England in the quarter-finals.
Against all the odds, they dominated Martin Johnson’s men to win convincingly. Wales were then beaten in the semi-finals although Sam Warburton’s controversial sending-off had a lot to do with that.
Somehow, France made it to the World Cup Final, losing 9 – 8 – A result which could have easily gone their way.
French rugby is in disarray
Time and time again we talk about which French team will turn up as a match approaches. The 2019 Rugby World Cup has been no different.
Before the tournament, we wrote about how talented the French squad actually is. Finally, the selection seemed to make sense. The inclusion of Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud heralded a new French rugby revolution.
There was a squad that had six or seven youngsters who could quite easily lead the French team for the next ten years. And yet, France has yet again failed to fire. There are no excuses, the talent is there. Veterans like Guirado, Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget should be providing the necessary leadership with the coaching team.
Take the case of Louis Picamoles. He is a magnificent rugby specimen blessed with brutal power, an eye for the try line and is virtually impossible to bring down in one tackle. When Picamoles is on his game there are a few better number eights in world rugby.
Against the Eagles, we saw little of Picamoles. It is difficult for we mere mortals to understand how these quality rugby players can go from hero to zero so quickly.
Huget. At his best a swashbuckling attacking cavalier that encapsulates everything we love about the Gallic flair. The next – anonymous and at times non-existent.
Top 14 politics
So, why is French rugby in disarray? It is not a question that is easily answered as there are many factors be considered. The politics that shrouds rugby’s richest league, the Top 14 has a lot to do with it.
The power struggles that reign among French rugby’s aristocracy shows no signs of reconciliation. Put simply, France’s national team runs like a separate entity to the Top 14. Players go from playing a test match to playing for their club a few days later.
This is better now but up until recently, players like Guirado were expected to back up. No easy task for a front-rower and the fatigue that they go through in a test match.
Lack of a coaching structure and direction
Another obvious finger to point is the coaching or lack of. The current French set-up sees Jacques Brunel, Bernard Laporte and Fabien Galthie seemingly on totally different wavelengths.
Brunel said that he was pleased with the intensity against Tonga but the French were nowhere near good enough in the second half. Brunel also stated that France would need to go back to basics for the England clash and that they would have to work hard during the week.
And yet, a training session was cancelled on Tuesday? Toulon’s highly outspoken owner, Mourad Boudjellal has suggested that the players ask the coaches to go on holiday and take control themselves.
That is like Saracens owner Nigel Wray saying that to Eddie Jones? Can you imagine the uproar? But in France, nothing is ever clear and yet all of this chaos might just work in France’s favour.
If France finds motivation……
Richard Hill, the ex-Bath and England scrum-half was interviewed by The Times in September. It was an insightful piece about the complicated world of French rugby.
For all of the disorganisation in the Top 14, the national set-up and coaching – France is still capable of one massive performance. There is no other nation who can summon up motivation like France. Disinterested one week, furiously committed the next. And this is why England and Eddie have to be very well prepared this weekend.
One only has to look at the talent that France has at its disposal. We have mentioned Damian Penaud, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntmack already. They are potentially world-class. We can also add in the likes of Yacouba Camara and Thomas Ramos to that list.
As ever with French rugby, it comes down to how much the players want it. They have the individuals. They have the talent, pace and power to compete and win against anyone on there day. But, do they have the collective will to come together as the team?
Recent as well as past evidence suggests not. England could quite conceivably put 40 points on France this Saturday or it could be 2011 all over again. It’s what makes this Pool C encounter so fascinating because once again we have no idea what French team will turn up.
“Main photo credit”