France have nine out of ten points to date as they move towards a final weekend showdown with Ireland to top the group
Nine points from a possible ten isn’t a bad way to launch a World Cup campaign, and France coach Philippe Saint-Andre declared himself satisfied on Wednesday night after watching his side follow up Saturday’s win against Italy with a 38-11 victory over Romania.
It wasn’t a great match, however, the most entertaining sight that of PSA going ballistic in the dressing-room at half-time. There was no sound to accompany the images of the normally laid-back coach screaming at his players, but according to Thursday’s L’Equipe the gist of his message was “Combat! Combat! Combat!”
And who can blame him in demanding more ‘combat’? France were comprehensively outmuscled in the first 40 minutes, conceding fifteen turnovers (to Romania’s three). “Un fiasco total,” as L’Equipe put it.
France improved in the second half as brave Romanian bodies tired and PSA made some much-needed changes, notably the removal of the two props, Vincent Debaty and Uini Atonio, both of whom were given a rough night by the Romanian front-row.
Atonio is a good example of PSA’s unwavering belief that bigger is best. The Kiwi may be the heaviest man ever to play for France but he’s certainly not the best, and his 6ft 5in physique was exploited by loosehead Mihaita Lazar, who got underneath Atonio in the scrum and probably ensured he won’t be seen again in this tournament.
Nor will Fulgence Ouedraogo, who struggled to make much of an impression on the flank although in his case it’s lack of bulk, as opposed to too much, that hindered his performance.
With the French scrum under pressure, none of the back-row had games to remember and Picamoles looks in need of a rest before the decisive match against Ireland on October 11.
Injuries permitting, PSA will likely to field the same pack versus Ireland that he did against Italy, although Damien Chouly‘s position might come under threat from Bernard Le Roux. The Racing flanker got a run-out at lock against Romania, and while he laboured manfully in the set-piece it was in the loose that he caught the eye, making 11 tackles, more than any other Frenchman.
In the backline PSA has a couple of tricky decisions to make between now and the Ireland game. The half-backs won’t change, not after Morgan Parra and Remi Tales failed to challenge the incumbent duo of Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Frederic Michalak. Tales did little wrong against Romania but nor did he offer much in the way of creativity, standing so deep the French threequarters looked slow and predictable for much of the game.
As a result neither Gael Fickou nor Wesley Fofana shone in the centre, although both scored good individual tries in the final minutes as Romania wilted. It’s been a complaint of many in France that Fofana has struggled in recent seasons to transfer his club form onto the international stage; but it must be hard as a centre when the fly-halves change with such bewildering regularity with some (Tales) standing deep and others (Michalak and Plisson) playing close to the gain line.
PSA must use the Canada game next Thursday to decide whether to pair Fofana with Mathieu Bastareaud against Ireland or stick with Alexandre Dumoulin, who started the Italy game and was defensively solid. What is certain is that Bastareaud will start, his ability to pinch ball at the breakdown sorely missed in the Olympic Stadium (as was prop Eddy Ben Arous’s).
Brice Dulin was one of the few players who emerged from Wednesday with his reputation intact but it’s unlikely the Racing full-back will dislodge Scott Spedding. PSA values the South African’s defensive skills and his booming right boot – whether out of hand or kicking 50m penalties – will ensure he stays at 15. On the other hand, PSA must decide whether to replace the injured Yoann Huget with Dulin or Sofitane Guitoune, who scored a brace of tries against Romania. Neither has much international experience on the wing and Jonathan Sexton will no doubt use his boot to probe for weaknesses out wide.
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