“Clouseau is the bumbling and incompetent police inspector of the French Sûreté, whose investigations are marked with chaos and destruction that he himself largely causes. Regardless of his rather limited ability, he successfully solves his cases and finds the correct culprits, even if this success is achieved entirely by accident.”
Sound like anyone?
Lievremont was a surprise appointment as French coach, earning the position after a relatively short stint at Dax, who were outside the Top 14 for his tenure. Admittedly, Martin Johnson had even less coaching experience but the RFU must have figured that the status earned during his playing career would buy him some time if results didn’t go his way. Lievremont picked 53 players during his first season, including 25 debutants, and didn’t seem to have an idea of his first team. A benevolent opinion was that he was trying his options and building a World Cup squad in his own image. Things looked to be falling into place with a Grand Slam in 2010 but a loss to Italy in 2011 after a 59-16 thrashing by Australia in the Stade de France has raised more questions than answered.
Nevertheless, France travel to New Zealand with what seems like a strong squad. Their props are all strong scrummagers and William Servat is one of the best scrummaging hooker in the world. Damien Szarzewski also brings a robust physicality to his play.
In the second row, the French go with four big men and are prepared to use their backrow players, particularly Bonnaire and Imanol Harinordoquy as primary lineout options. Thierry Dusautoir captains them and will aim to be involved throughout the game, in customary fashion. Dusautoir’s performance in the quarter final of the last World Cup included a phenomenal 38 tackles.
Parra and Yachvili compete for the starting scrum half berth. Both are test match place kickers and capable of playing one out if required. Doubts remain about their alacrity and France always seemed more dangerous to this writer when the zippier Pierre Mignoni stepped the tempo up from the base. Mignoni has retired now and France have two very similar scrum halves in their party.
David Skrela has somehow been selected again. One has to think that if didn’t have his surname, he wouldn’t have got as many chances. Akin to Donnchadh O’Callaghan, Skrela has been picked by numerous coaches over a long period but still doesn’t convince. Francois Trinh-Duc will start all big games.
Yannick Jauzion has been omitted for this trip while Damien Traille travels. At one stage France looked to have the dream “twin tower” midfield but in recent seasons it has been Traille that has lost form. Nevertheless, he travels and is joined by Marty, Mermoz and Rougerie. Rougerie’s inclusion gives France physicality, leadership and cutting edge in the middle of the park. The back three include some great finishers and runners including the mercurial Maxime Medard.
It is difficult to forecast, even at this stage, France’s first team. Once that selection is made, it is hard to know what team will show up on the day. One thing is certain: France is capable of beating anyone, including New Zealand at home, witness 2009. They have a World Cup pedigree that includes surprises and disappointments in equal measure. They have lost twice at home in knockout games at home, both times to England. They’ve beaten Australia in Australia and got so close to beating South Africa in 1995.
It seems that they will finish second in their group behind New Zealand and then face England in a quarter final. Les Bleus have beaten England once in the World Cup, winning the third place match in 1995. It is a match that les Rosbifs will relish more than France. Reconciling their genius and flair with technical proficiency and a durable mental attitude has proved difficult for France. But should it all click, all bets are off. Ooh, la, la!
Props: F. Barcella, L. Ducalcon, N. Mas, J. Poux
Hooker: G. Guirado, W. Servat, D. Szarzewski
Second Rows: R. Millo-Chluski, L. Nallet, P. Pape, J. Pierre
Back Row: J. Bonnaire, T. Dusautoir, F. Ouedraogo, I. Harinordoquy, R. Lakafia, L. Picamoles
Scrum Half: M. Parra, D. Yachvili
Out half: D. Skrela, F. Trinh-Duc
Backs: F. Estebanez, D. Marty, M. Mermoz, A. Rougerie, D. Traille, V. Clerc, C. Heymans, M. Médard, A. Palisson