And so here is the XV of France which arrives across the Channel with three victories in its suitcases and good morale. The last time the Blues of rugby found themselves in this situation, it was during the 2020 Tournament. And wreckage: they then let themselves be picked up by the Scots who stopped their momentum.
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Can we imagine such a misadventure this Friday evening in the Millennium in Cardiff where vengeful Welshmen expect the French to be pumped up? With two more years, the Blues do not really have the same pace.
“We took on a collective experience and maturity”, summed up coach Laurent Labit, in charge of the French attack, at the start of the week. The time is no longer to validate fragile hopes but to confirm a status of favorites with which the whole troop seems more and more comfortable. And for good reason.
The DNA of “dispossession”
At the end of the 2021 Tournament, we still felt the Blues a little floating in mastering the game system put in place by the strategist Fabien Galthié: this famous “dispossession” leaving the ball to the opponent, accompanied by a game at millimeter foot occupancy and a very quick adaptability to turn the slightest recovery into gold.
The setting to music was delicate, but the Blues have carved out their score and are now performing it perfectly. The proof with the last game against Scotland: they held the ball only 42% of the time, but planted six tries for a 36-17 success. Is the effectiveness of a flamboyant attack the hallmark of the XV of France 2022?
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“Yes, but we must not forget that the game of the French is primarily focused on defensecomplements former coach Pierre Villepreux (1995-1999). Everything starts from there, from this defensive base. » Many players work in this area, and not only the specialists. Scrum-half Antoine Dupont does not give his share to the dogs, and wingers Damian Penaud (package this Friday because positive for Covid, read below) and Gabin Villière are working to dezone to tackle with all their might and scratch balloons.
“Then, the advance is rather entrusted to the forwards, who have become conquerors, and it is only if it gets stuck that we separate ourselves from the ball by playing with the footcontinues Pierre Villepreux. But this separation is less systematic than in the two previous tournaments. Because the players feel more free, because they have stored up this confidence which they lacked before. »
The art of the lightning attack
The convincing results against the New Zealanders in the fall (40-25) and the Irish on February 12 (30-24) have enriched this capital, which the Blues are investing tremendously in recovery actions. “They are then formidable in the changes of rhythm, able without aligning the long playing times, in just a few passes, to place real stabs in the opposing defense”underlines Philippe Saint-André, the current manager of Montpellier at the controls of the Blues from 2011 to 2015.
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This style after which the French team ran in vain for years, here it is clearly visible on the meadow. “This band has real DNA nowretains Philippe Saint-André. He has a framework to which all the players adhere, in osmosis with the technical staff. And it can express itself fully because it is made up of a generation of great talents. The reservoir of the Blues is such today that we can almost line up two very strong teams. This is also what allows him to hold a very high level for eighty minutes by bringing in his substitutes-finishers. »
That said, Pierre Villepreux refuses to see in this collective a machine that recites his rugby. “He does not cook a recipe, but has such game intelligence in decision-making, with individualities that make the difference, that he simply plays the ball better than the others. » For Philippe Saint-André, this precise and rapid transition game is reminiscent of that of the Blues of Didier Deschamps at work at the 2018 World Cup, or that of the Olympic handball champions last year in Tokyo. A kind of “made in France” in short, which allows you to climb on top of the world. The Rugby Blues will soon be able to think only of that.
The threat of Covid resurfaces
The XV of France thought it had feigned the Covid after the positive cases of a few executives, such as Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, just before the start of the competition. Las: the winger Damian Penaud and the second line replacing Romain Taofifenua were affected in turn and are therefore not traveling to Wales.
It is Bordeaux center Yoram Moefana who replaces Damian Penaud, and, on the bench, coach Fabien Galthié has chosen five forwards and three backs rather than the 6-2 combination of the last games. These two cases above all raise fears of new contaminations before the France-England of March 19.