A mate of mine in Perpignan summed up France like this: “When they are uncertain, they are dangerous. When they are certain, they are shit.”
We have seen it time and time again over the years, the dichotomy that is France. They were uncertain ahead of the World Cup final and very nearly won it all. They were certain ahead of the Six Nations and were absolute merde.
I have seen it first hand, having played against one of the great French teams here in ’84. They had Berbizier, Lescarboura, Sella, Cordorniou, Esteve, Blanco. France could have won the first test in Christchurch, then we annihilated them at Eden Park. There is no telling.
In 1979 I was a keen follower of world rugby and I never thought that France team would make an impact. Then on Bastille Day they played one of the greatest games ever played. In ’94 against a good All Blacks team featuring a young Jonah Lomu, France just cut loose in both tests.
That may have showcased Sadourny’s try from the end of the world, but with France it all starts in the pack. The backs rarely let it all go if their forwards are having a downer. It all starts up front.
This France team are without Pascal Pape, but they will still be strong up front. Thomas Domingo is a very destructive scrummager on the loosehead and Nicolas Mas, although not playing well at the moment, has been a great test forward. He feeds off the scrum. They may see a weakness in the All Blacks here, but when everyone thinks Tony Woodcock is down, he tends to come back and have a cracker.
The loss of Sam Whitelock is a blow. He has become New Zealand’s premier lock, as good as anyone at contest lineout ball. He almost has a John Eales quality – Whitelock’s not a mongrel, but plays with an intelligence and rises to the occasion. He is a loss from the planning point of view, because the best way to get at France is to disrupt their ball. Whitelock would have picked up on their cues.
You do not want to give France lineouts in your 22 and you need to contest strongly. It is important to infiltrate their mauling game and Andrew Hore may have a big part to play in that.
The loss of Whitelock will ask more of Brodie Retallick and he will step up. He will be a colossus over time, a 100 cap All Black. He’s that good. Retallick’s a grafter, a body mover, he makes tackles and gets lower than any man that size I’ve seen. Romano is a similar beast, but may lack the balance.
France will come at New Zealand through the forwards, but it is hard to know what to expect from the backs. I assume Michanaud will play 9 and Michalak 10. That is a risk, because you are never sure what you will get from Michalak and he has played most of his season at 9. He also offers a defensive channel for the All Blacks to attack.
I hope Fickou gets a chance in the series. He’s an electric, attacking centre. Fofana has extraordinary running ability. Mermoz has been on the bench at Toulon, but when he was at Perpignan, Daniel Carter thought he was outstanding. This France team can be very dangerous if the coach lets them play, but it’s a big if.
They are in transition. Saint-Andre has been weeding out Lievremont’s boys. But France still have a hell of a team if they click. France were poor in the Six Nations, but on their day…
Can you see Les Bleus creating an upset in New Zealand? Comments below…