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Michael Sadlier: Les Bleus continue to underachieve but with the ability to shrug off the inner demons


Perfect 10: Romain Ntamack has moved in from centre to outhalf and is the key part in France’s gameplan
Perfect 10: Romain Ntamack has moved in from centre to outhalf and is the key part in France’s gameplan

By Michael Sadlier

What are we to make of France?

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A familiar refrain really when faced by trying to figure out just what direction Les Bleus are currently travelling.

Their bonus point victory over Scotland was delivered with a certain authority and, as such, coach Jacques Brunel then did the almost unthinkable by retaining his starting team for tomorrow's game in Dublin.

Not only the first time on Brunel's watch that this approach to selection has been taken but going back-to-back Tests with an unchanged side is something that hasn't actually been seen since 2012.

And yet you cannot escape the dismal performances produced against Wales - when France gifted them the win at Stade de France - and the 44-8 thrashing that followed at Twickenham with Jonny May's hat-trick leading the slaughter.

So, are they making any progress, or is seeing off Scotland merely a distraction from a squad going nowhere fast with yet another lame duck coach?

Throw in the World Cup with England seemingly pool toppers and the French having to battle it out with Argentina to progress and further ignominy could be just around the corner.

And they tend not to do trips to Dublin very well any more either, with France's last taste of victory coming in 2011 in a World Cup warm-up game.

Yet this is not the worst time for a stuttering France to meet an Ireland side clearly lacking in confidence and yet to deliver their usual on-field ruthlessness and accuracy.

Les Bleus also have a score to settle with Joe Schmidt's side after last year's sensational Johnny Sexton drop goal which cut deep into their psyche.

If their new, and notably young, half-back pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack can be given a foothold in the game, against what has been a malfunctioning Conor Murray-Sexton axis, then the French can believe they might win.

A French side brimming with confidence is a dangerous thing, though, admittedly, Wales found this had quite the opposite effect.

England pummelled the French back three with kicks at Twickenham and more of that is a sure-fire thing against a team coached by Schmidt but, since then, Brunel has moved Gael Fickou back to centre and redirected Yoann Huget from full-back to wing.

This appears to have created a more balanced back three now that Thomas Ramos is at 15 and, along with the mercurial Damian Penaud, they possess an extremely talented and dangerous unit though any flakiness under the doubtless expected barrage will doubtless be found easily enough.

So there is subtlety but also power. Enter Mathieu Bastareaud who is a dead cert to seek out Sexton's channel. Up front, Les Bleus have 20-year-old prop Demba Bamba who has been a revelation in the loose while older hands Louis Picamoles, skipper Guilhem Guirado and Sebastien Vahaamahina can be game-turners.

Brunel has called on his pack to bare their teeth tomorrow though that alone will hardly suffice.

Only a hugely collective effort, accompanied by a home side misfire, will swing it and you have to wonder if France possess enough belief to make it happen.








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