Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.
I will be going through these debriefs alphabetically, so today I will be casting my eye over France.
France qualified automatically by qualifying for the knockouts of the 2015 tournament, losing to New Zealand in the quarterfinals
Les Bleus finished 4th in the Six Nations this year with victories over Scotland and Italy, while they lost at home to Wales and away to England and Ireland. In their 3 warm-up games, home advantage was key as they beat Scotland and Italy, but lost at Murrayfield.
- Pool Stages (2nd in Pool C)
- France 23-21 Argentina
- France 33-9 USA
- France 23-21 Tonga
- England C-C France
- Wales 20-19 France
This World Cup performance was positively French in every clichéd way possible. It is usually said that you never know what French team will turn up for each game, but in this tournament you could replace “game” with “half”. Against Argentina, they led 20-3 at half time, only to require a late long-range penalty miss to hold onto the win. It was the reverse against the USA, as they struggled to a 12-6 halftime lead before pulling away late on. They may argue that they were the losers from Typhoon Hagibis causing heir match against England to be cancelled, but it’s hard to argue they would have won to take the top spot in the pool.
Building towards the tournament, I did question France’s discipline in matches and that often proved an issue in the pool stages, with that being a big factor in Argentina’s resurgence and the team being relatively fortunate to not lose a man to the bin for persistent offending.
Those disciplinary issues remained in their quarterfinal as a match that they had been on top of fell away from them following Sébastien Vahaamahina unbelievable brain fart, elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the head when France had possession in a great position. Until then, France had been by far the better team in the game, with a big defensive effort (that continued once down to 14 men) and some great attacking from broken play, while Camille Lopez struggled to cause the Welsh issues in the same way Romain Ntamack had prior to his injury.
As I pointed out coming into the tournament, France are in a very strong position looking ahead to the 2023 tournament. The core of this squad is made of young, exciting talent with options in every position. Ntamack may not even be the regular fly half for Toulouse, but he appears to be making the 10 shirt his own for Les Bleus, with other young talents also coming through at the position, while players like Camille Chat, Demba Bamba, Emerick Setiano, Gregory Alldritt and Damian Penaud will have gained so much from this experience and future stars like Jordan Joseph will soon be making their way into the senior ranks.
The big thing for France now is coaching. Too often we see the team rebelling against their coaches and there were rumours of Jacques Brunel falling out with captain Guilhem Guirado and some other senior players. They need to make sure that whoever takes the lead is strong enough to hold control, but also willing to work with everyone else so that the entire squad is working as a unit. The word is that Shaun Edwards will be joining the coaching set-up as defence coach, which is a scary thought as he has done such a great job of making the Wales defence so solid and disciplined. If he can repeat the process with France, watch out!