NATHAN HINES believes that France are destined to go from strength to strength under head coach Guy Noves, and has warned that they are likely register their strongest performance yet in this year’s Six Nations campaign at Murrayfield on Sunday afternoon.
Les Bleus have once again flattered to deceive this past month. They secured narrow victories at home to Italy and injury-ravaged Ireland in their first two matches of the tournament, but slipped up away to Wales in their most recent outing, with a lack of cohesion and poor decision making undermining the undoubted potential of one of the biggest and most gifted teams in northern hemisphere rugby.
Hines enjoyed four happy seasons playing club rugby in France with Perpignan between 2005 and 2008, and another three seasons with Clermont Auvergne between 2011 and 2014. During those two sojourns on the continent, the second-row stalwart regularly locked horns against Noves [who won four Heineken Cups and ten French championships during 22 glorious years as head coach of Toulouse] and clearly liked what he saw.
French rugby has not had its problems to seek when it comes to recent head coaches of the national team. Marc Lievremont was supposed to be in charge when they reached the World Cup Final in 2011, but it is widely accepted that he had lost the dressing room by the end of the group stage and that the players effectively led themselves through the knock-out phases of the tournament.
His successor, Philippe St Andre did not fare any better, with his players staging a ‘discreet’ rebellion before their 2015 World Cup quarter-final clash against New Zealand, amid complaints of a lack of charisma from the former winger. The French lost that game by a record 62-13 margin.
France won a Grand Slam in 2010, but have not managed to finish above fourth in the table since then, and even ended up with the wooden spoon in 2013.
Noves clearly has his work cut-out in transforming the fortunes of these sleeping giants, but Hines believes that the veteran coach has got what it takes to succeed in what must surely be the most unstable coaching positions in the world rugby.
“The French national side doesn’t really get much aid from the club game and Guy will know all about that because he was on the opposite side of the fence. So, they’ve had limited time to work together and the longer the tournament goes on I think you’ll find that their play gets more coherent and they get more structure,” said Hines.
“They’ve got individuals who can get the team out of sticky situations and they’ve got guys who have got real power. So, while they are still a bit dysfunctional as a team, I think that will come. I’m sure that Guy has managed that expectation – it’s his first year as their international coach, he’s had no time with them, and I’m sure they are happy with what he is doing.”
“The more time they spend together, not even in this tournament, but over the next season or so, I think we’ll see a big surge.”
Now working as a ‘resource coach’ for the Scotland team, Hines says his charges will be wary of the threat posed by Sunday’s visitors, but will be more focussed on building on their own performance after picking up a first Six Nations win since February 2014 against Italy in their last outing.
“I don’t think a lot is going to change for this game, they’ll try to establish set-piece dominance, and then try to get their speedsters into the game. It’s a simple game, isn’t it? Their offload game is strong, they’ve had the most offloads in the tournament, so that’s something we’ve got to be alert to and try to snuff out,” he mused.
“They are individually really, really strong, even if they are not playing that well as a team. We are obviously looking at what they have been doing and what they have the potential to do – but most of the focus is on us and improving on what we did against Italy.”
“If we play well and put some pressure on them, take a few line-outs and perform in the scrum like we did against Italy, then they are going to have limited opportunities. I’d rather get our house in order first rather than worry about whether they are going to come and play – that leaves too many things that are out of our control.”