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Jury's out, but Noves may be one to rescue Les Bleus

By Michael Sadler

There are two schools of thought, which says it all really. First, there is the notion that Guy Noves is gradually turning things round for Les Bleus and adding a semblance of flair - and even team spirit - to their more familiar brute force.

And then there is the other theory which argues that nothing has really changed so far and that France are simply continuing down the already well-travelled boulevard of pursuing a game plan without direction.

So, we are either witnessing a Noves-inspired revolution or another level of ruination for the national side.

And there you have it. Maybe they will truly rediscover a way of playing with stunning flair, or maybe it will just be another false dawn.

At least some things are definitely changing though and Noves brings his squad to Dublin after sitting out a weekend of Top 14 action.

But the evidence on show against Scotland wasn't entirely conclusive when it comes to being able to figure out where France are heading though, earlier, they did admittedly run England impressively close.

Power, though, still seems to be king in the French game.

True, there were elements of subtlety and playing heads-up rugby with ball in hand and even off-loading against the Scots, but the notion that Les Bleus are still essentially one-dimensional remains the overriding impression.

In Louis Picamoles they do possess a No.8 who has revitalised his game but is it any accident that he has rediscovered how good he can be by playing with Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership?

The reinvented Picamoles is the man Ireland have to halt at source today as he is the fulcrum of their momentum.

But France are more than about just one player. Wingers Noa Nakaitaci - though defensively a weak link - and the recalled Yoann Huget, as well as centre Gael Fickou, can give them extra edge in attack should they throw caution to the wind.

But their key player behind the scrum remains full-back Scott Spedding and, here, the imposing star is all about strength and power.

Indeed, you wonder had Mathieu Bastareaud been fit whether Noves could have resisted the temptation to have the juggernaut centre running directly at Jonathan Sexton to smash him up again.

And while scrum-half Baptiste Serin looks in dangerously good form, the same cannot be convincingly said of his half-back partner Camille Lopez.

Up front, of course, the intent is clear via scrum and maul and should Ireland pursue a high tempo, multi-phase game, then the French forwards could be gasping for air and going to their bench early.

Key here is whether France can stymie Ireland's intent for quick ball at the breakdown but that looks a big ask for Picamoles and flankers Bernard Le Roux and Kevin Gourdon.

They can certainly rumble with the best and could get into the faces of a still arguably unbalanced Irish back row, but the skills set of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and CJ Stander should be greater.

It suits Noves well that the jury is out on where France are heading.

The reality, though, is that they are getting closer to a hugely significant result.

Belfast Telegraph


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