May / June Rugby Article

French Fried

French Rugby Tour – France arrives soon for a three-test tour.

Choosing their personnel is a nigh-on impossible task.

 Campbell Burnes argues that France is not in great shape for June, but that is nothing new.

France placed fourth in the 2018 Six Nations, securing two wins (their first in a year) and placing ahead of arch-rivals England. It might have risen to second with luck and nous.

So what to make of the French as we contemplate their arrival for the June series against the All Blacks downunder?

It must be said, firstly, that France has not challenged hard for the Six Nations title since 2011, when it was runner-up under the controversial Marc Lievremont. Since then, it has never done better than third, which would suggest that Les Bleus will not be at full noise to trouble the All Blacks in June, despite Steve Hansen’s assertion that we should not be arrogant enough to label them easybeats. Furthermore, France will hold its Top 14 final on June 2, less than seven days before the first test match at Eden Park. They have done this before, though they hijacked us at Carisbrook in 2009 when a rebuilding All Blacks must have believed the hype that the French would be tired and banged up.

France now lie a lowly No 8 in the world rankings, and still trying to get its head around how new coach Jacques Brunel wants to play.

Brunel, previously at the helm of Italy and who won a Top 14 crown with Perpignan, when Dan Carter was on the books, has tried to drag France into the 21st century with its style after the Guy Noves era ended in ignominy. But Brunel is, of course, hamstrung by the plethora of foreigners in key positions in the Top 14.

Take first five, where he introduced the teenaged Mathieu Jalibert for the Six Nations opener against Ireland, only to see him succumb to a knee injury. By the end of the campaign, he had reverted to Francois Trinh-Duc, many years past his best, who had a shocker against Wales when France should have won in Cardiff had its skill execution matched ambition.

Trinh-Duc’s back-up was Lionel Beauxis, another kicking No 10 who is well past his use-by date as a tactician and runner.

There is promise in the pack, where hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado was one of the best players in the Championship, while front-rowers Jefferson Poirot and Rabah Slimani can more than hold their own. Lock Sebastien Vahaamahina can throw his weight around, while Yacouba Camara is a nuisance at the breakdown.

Maxime Machenaud has proven he can slot the goals at halfback, though Baptiste Serin is a superior allround player. Centre Mathieu Bastareaud, he of the infamous 2009 night out in Wellington fame, is a veritable bowling ball in midfield, but is a touch fiery to be skipper, as he was against Wales.

Wing Teddy Thomas scored two solo tries in the Six Nations, but was then one of several stars, including No 8 Louis Picamoles and centre Remi Lamerat, to be dropped by Brunel for off-field issues.

So picking who might get on the plane is a lottery. We do know that some of the passing in the French backline is a far cry from the Charvet-Sella era, and we know that discipline remains a problem.

So the pressure is on Brunel. We do not envy him his job.

Image: www.photosport.nz