Sunday 21 January 2018

'We need to increase our speed of play against Ireland' - French camp eyeing revenge

France’s number eight Louis Picamoles. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images
France’s number eight Louis Picamoles. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

What to make of Guy Noves and his French revolution? After merely 80 minutes, it is too early to say.

Rome wasn't built in a day, the French kept muttering to themselves this weekend as they pondered the late drama - thankfully, of just the sporting kind - in the Stade de France.

More pointedly, when Rome was destroyed it took rather longer to rebuild; that is the job facing Noves and the national side.

Promising portents perhaps, with seven debutants, audacious off-loading and some decent attacking shape; yet a glance at the scarcely credible defensive structure - or lack of it - betrayed the flimsy enough foundations of this once-proud national team.

"You know, we are starting from the bottom," admits, Guy Noves, 62 on Saturday and quite the old hand to be trying something new in an era when professionalism threatens to render both him and his side a poignant anachronism.

The last thing, then, Noves would have needed after Saturday's close shave was to lose the immense figure of Louis Picamoles, upon whose broad shoulders had rested much of the on-field responsibility entering this new, uncertain era.

Not only will he miss this weekend's Ireland clash but the entire Championship, too. Bordeaux flanker Loann Goujon has been called up but can scarcely hope to fill the immense void.

If Joe Schmidt had been trying his best to mask a private sense of relief with necessarily public disappointment after his side's draw, Noves speaks ahead of this Saturday's encounter like a man whose side lost, rather than won, their opening game.

Eighty minutes was enough to show him all the work that needs to be done and yet another 80 minutes cannot possibly allow him to get even half of it achieved.

"I do not even have the time to be satisfied or frustrated," he groans. "Does the match give me satisfaction or frustration? Neither. Satisfaction, this often results in lethargy.

"Today, we had the experience of losing. Then we go ahead but we can still lose in the end. But there is no satisfaction or frustration. I have work to do on a lot of areas in which we will have to redouble our efforts.

"I head back to the grindstone and with the staff, our only desire is to get our messages across. We will work, that is all that concerns me."

Top of the list will be the defence, which was extremely passive for long periods of the first half before tightening up a tad after the break yet, with question marks about the suitability of Noves' old pal Jeff Dubois, nominally an attack coach, Ireland will seek to exploit weaknesses here. "We must find the right balance," says the greenhorn coach.

"Sometimes the desire to play was excessive. We must have intelligent concept of risk-taking."

This goes for both sides of the ball; France's renewed attacking commitment was betrayed by a looseness in their offloading game; an area in which Ireland still dare not indulge, despite their willingness to seek more width than previously against Wales.

France effected 15 offloads - compared to Ireland's one - but seeking to constantly keep the ball off the ground did not always lead to the retention of possession.

"We were in camp for a very short time with a very young team," explains Noves. "If we could have won by a bigger margin, we would have, but Italy could have won as well so let's enjoy the win.

"I also want to focus on the enthusiasm the boys showed at times. We needed to be more lucid, and the first have didn't have enough tempo.

"Our defensive form wasn't good enough, which gave Italy a lot of possession and created a few gaps.

"But still, our enthusiasm was a big positive. We had talked about taking initiatives, there was an opportunity to score three points in the first half but the quick tap Gael Fickou took resulted in a try.

"It felt like, with this low tempo, the boys really wanted to let loose and play a faster game, which had been our message during the week. Each time we did that, we were dangerous.

"We will review our performance and hope to be better next week. I was happy with Virimi Vakatawa's performance. He obviously met our expectations.

"He showed his potential, and proved that he could perform at top level. I am very happy with him, he shook things up and ask a lot of questions to the Italian defence which was very encouraging.

"But we saw a lot of hesitation in the attacking line, with decoy runners that were not always needed. Was that too hard to work on in such a short time?"

Nevertheless, the ambition in the squad remains vaulting; after all, they are one of only two sides to have won their opening game and, after the World Cup defeat to Ireland, will be eyeing vengeance.

"Against Ireland, we have to increase our speed of play," says Rabah Slimani, the impressive tighthead last night linked to a Toulon move next season.

"Do the same things but faster. We are here to win the tournament. For this, we must build the team from game to game. And that makes it easier to win.

"So even while we are preparing for the future it does not prevent us from targeting this Championship. We are here to win, not finish second."

France have been second-rate for far too long.

Irish Independent

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