Someone asked me the other day why France would play a man like Mathieu Bastareaud at number 13 and my answer was, “Why not?” If all you are attempting to do is smash over the gain line inch by inch, why would you not select Bastareaud? If all you are attempting to do is crush the opposition with power, why would you not select Bastareaud?
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I know what the questioner was asking me. At the All Blacks we have had Conrad Smith, a thinker and a ball player in the number 13 position. It is traditionally a creative position. It is a key link to the big outside world.
But France don’t play like that any more. They do not want to play like that. There was a period in the match against Wales when it seemed that the French midfield didn’t touch the ball for 20 minutes. The scrum-half Maxime Machenaud is slow and doesn’t create anything. Frederik Michalak is not Renaissance Man. The creativity has been coached out of this team. French flair is a fairytale that is never coming back.
Let me tell you a story about a four-year-old girl. The teacher asks her what she is drawing and the little girl replies that she is drawing God.
“But we don’t know what God looks like,” says the teacher.
“You will in a minute,” says the little girl.
The current generation of French players don’t know what flair looks like. Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella and Dider Codorniou would not get into this French team. Especially not Codorniou. Too small. He probably wouldn’t even get to play Top 14. What’s the point?
The current French half back puts his foot on the ball, has a look round, then passes it to someone who smashes into another brick wall. And on and on, times fifteen, moving the same way across the pitch until there is only a centimetre left to the touchline. Then they come back and do it the other way.
You could hear the frustration in the voice of Jonathan Davies on commentary. Here were the two Gallic teams of world rugby, the teams who are supposed to play with soul, but where was the imagination. Davies would call out the space and another player would run into a wall.
French flair requires optimism but at the moment I don’t see that in their players. We know that Francois Trinh-Duc and Wesley Fofana have a little magic, but it will soon be coached out of them. I hope it all changes against England, and French power could still be enough to beat almost any team on their day, but there is no sign of it at the moment.
Maybe we now see Marc Lievremont, the coach at the last World Cup, in a different light. He did at least get them to play some rugby from time to time. Maybe that’s why he got such flak from everyone. He was out there on his own. The lone nut. A man living in the past. There is no time for total rugby any more. French flair is just a kid’s painting.
This is the industrial age.
Is the Gallic flair gone for good from the French? Comments below…