25 Nov 2016

French flair on life support

4:34 pm on 25 November 2016

Opinion - Putting money down on the All Blacks' last test of the year?

Your best options are: A win, that everyone will complain about their new jersey and that someone will say "the All Blacks need to be wary of French unpredictability and flair".

France rugby players

France is the most predictable team in world rugby, Jamie Wall says. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It's a favourite among lazy rugby pundits. Just like how Argentina loves scrums and steak, you have to be wary of the "huge" Springbok pack and how England play 10-man rugby.

Argentina's success is based on their commitment to running the ball, not holding in the back of a scrum. The Springboks are no bigger than any other test side. England is on the verge of a perfect season and average 33 points a game.

France are not dangerous or exciting. It is the most predictable team in world rugby. The only thing stopping the All Blacks from an easy victory is if they have another Chicago-like shocker of a performance.

READ ALSO: Changes made to All Blacks team for France.

This is a French side that has achieved nothing since coming within a point of the All Blacks in the World Cup final in 2011. In the Six Nations they have not finished higher than fourth and have lost more than half their games, including five times to the All Blacks. The last of those was a record 62-13 hiding at the World Cup, a larger margin of victory than the All Blacks had over Georgia and Namibia in the same tournament.

The most notable result of last weekend's tests was, of course, the Springboks losing to lowly Italy. It sent South African fans into a deep nadir and had the rugby world questioning whether the Boks would ever return to the superpower status they once held.

However, that's the same Italian side that's beaten France twice in the last five seasons. In fact, their rivalry is deemed to be so significant they play for a trophy every time they meet in the Six Nations. They last handed over said silverware in 2013, the only thing left in the French trophy cabinet that year was the competition Wooden Spoon.

It seems the only unpredictable thing they're capable of these days, as nation of 66 million people and owners of a proud rugby history, is losing matches they should win.

As for flair, they are capable of the odd awesome moment - so they should be, considering their players spend their seasons in the highest paid pro rugby competition in the world - but they are few and far between.

Despite almost pulling off a victory against a rejuvenated Wallabies last weekend, the rot that French rugby is in might be the only thing that can make Springboks fans feel better about themselves.

That's because it goes back a long way further than the South Africans' current woes. France's slide into stodgy tactics and shock losses came way back in 2000 with the appointment of coach Bernard Laporte, whose desire to base their play on the successful English style at the time stripped the team of most of their creativity.

A few coaches and one massive forward pass later, France managed a Grand Slam in 2010 and a World Cup final berth the following year. On closer inspection though, the rules of rugby at the time were heavily favouring conservative play and their World Cup run isn't actually as impressive as it seems. After unconvincing pool play, in which they were thumped by the All Blacks and beaten by Tonga (!), they managed to make the final by drawing with an English team that were treating the tournament like a stag do and a Welsh team that forgot to bring a goal kicker.

Since then Guy Noves has taken over and, to be fair, last week did actually show us some glimpses of what this team could be capable of. They certainly have the players to be good too, with the likes of Wesley Fofana and Louis Picamoles.

All recent historical signs point to a loss on Sunday morning. If you are getting up to watch, feel free to roll your eyes when the pre-match talk about the French is full of mentions of "flair", "unpredictability" and "willingness to get down and dirty when they need to".

However, such sentiment isn't entirely out of place in this match - it's just that talk of high skill levels, ability to turn games on their head and highly physical play should be directed at the team France are playing.

Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.