Sunday 24 September 2017

Bernard Jackman: France will play without pressure, which will make them very dangerous

French coach Guy Noves has already used 52 different players Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
French coach Guy Noves has already used 52 different players Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Bernard Jackman

Mindset is a key component in sport and I have been asked a lot over the last week where the French mindset will be in Dublin on Saturday.

Traditionally the French are capable of producing completely different performances from week to week, internationally and domestically. However, a string of good showings last year against Argentina, Samoa, Australia and New Zealand, and this year away to England and at home to Scotland, shows they are becoming a more consistent side.

Since former Toulouse coach Guy Noves took the reins last year he has used 52 different players. But he looks like he is settling on his first choice selection - and that will help massively as they are starting to implement a similar game-plan from week to week.

The spine of his team is now settled and it's refreshing to see his half-backs in the form of scrum-half Baptiste Serin from Bordeaux and Clermont outhalf Camile Lopez getting a run of games together. They are building that understanding that you'd associate with the combination of Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara, and more recently Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton.

Last Sunday's match in Paris against Scotland was the first time since Noves has taken charge that there was pressure to win. Up until now there have been excuses. However the wheels of change are turning faster than before in French rugby.

Bernard Laporte, the new president of the French Federation, is winning the battle with the clubs to release players for international training camps and is also putting pressure on the coaches of French representative teams at all age groups to win; this wasn't always the priority.

Given the pressure the French team were under, I saw a lot of positives in their performance against Scotland, which followed a very strong showing in Twickenham. The Irish scrum has been strong in their two matches, but in terms of pure power and weight the French eight are a different animal. They won four penalties from their own put-in against the Scots, and England, having chosen the scrum option on the French five-metre line, were embarrassingly pushed off the ball.

Their maul is a weapon and they often use it to catapult a big forward, usually Louis Picamoles, out the other side - so Murray will have a busy afternoon defensively.

People harp back to the days of French flair, and France have been rightly criticised over recent years for their conservatism and lack of ambition.

Noves's Toulouse sides played beautiful rugby and he has given this team the licence to take risks and be creative. Defences are now much more structured, forwards are now all athletic and can tackle. There are far fewer opportunities to run the ball from your own line and throw offloads at every contact point.

The modern French flair is built on power first with the ambition to offload once they have dominated the collision.

For Noves, if you have to go to ground and create a ruck, well then you have failed to keep the ball alive - whereas with most teams players are told to take contact and recycle. With this ambition to keep the ball alive the French make a lot of mistakes and turnovers and it is part of the reason that they have only scored one try per game so far, but those passes can stick.

They go to Italy and host Wales after playing Ireland and they will fancy their chances of winning both games. The Ireland match is their joker card. They have nothing to lose. A French team gaining confidence playing their joker without pressure is a dangerous opponent. Be warned.

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