Snook: French flair vanishing, crushed into turf

IAN SNOOK
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2013

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Opinion

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OPINION: French rugby is losing its way.

Infiltrated at home by rich owners, and a torrent of foreign players, demanding nothing less than brute force and constant pressure, the game as represented by the national team is wanting technically and tactically, and is suffering from a lack of self-expression and a loss of Gallic flair.

Gone are the days when the only tourist agreeing to speak English was the interpreter, to be replaced by a South African or two, and it seems lost forever is the back who with a slight change of angle, a change in pace and a look in the eye of the opponent, can change a non-threatening situation into a simple 2 v 1, or spot the space in behind the defence.

The forward who had the vision of a back, and instinctively passed to the right player at the right time, is now busy trying to run over the top of an opponent.

Opening up defences, once an art form, has turned into war in the trenches with the backline also primed for direct attack.

It is a sad sight viewing only glimpses of electrifying play, a team kicking the ball back to the All Blacks without a thought of countering, and watching a forward pack that cannot get themselves sufficiently organised to score a try from close range, win all their lineouts and create plays from these, and being unable to conjure up any real scrum pressure.

Gone are the days when the Pierre Villepreux philosophies, of "I look - I see - I think - I act", were a foundation of exciting and often breathtaking performances formulated around players having a freedom of expression and decision making backed up with a foundation of physicality at the tackle and set-pieces.

It is not only sad, but a tragedy - French players without the "Frenchness" and the associated magic.

On the other hand, the All Blacks have used the Villepreux philosophy with a slight twist, referring it on to the video analyst who is not coming up with the "act" sequence until the following week. "I look - I see - I think - I cut it and hand it on - it will be used next week" is the successful formula.

From an almost passing game in week one which provided a solid enough victory, week two provided a kicking attack which both suited the weather and the inability of the French to make any adjustments during the game.

Certainly this was a successful plan based on what they had learned from the first test, with the added bonus of the forward requirements stepping up several notches.

No doubt this week the All Black "think-tank" will be a step ahead once again as they make plans based on the strategic changes they anticipate from a French XV on the back foot.

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The planning though, no matter how successful, still doesn't answer all the questions the All Blacks camp will be considering during this week and beyond.

Is there a decision maker and game orchestrator to replace Dan Carter? What happens when Conrad Smith goes on holiday?

Have they got players in place who will make the big calls when the pressure is on and the computerised plan is under siege?

But back to the French. It is sad to see them at loggerheads with their culture. World rugby needs a charismatic team full of energy and excitement.

Maybe it is time to reintroduce the pre-game lunch with plenty of red wine and laughter.

It would be great for the Taranaki public to get to see two champion teams battling out an exciting and close game but somehow it doesn't appear that this will happen.

Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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