How do you solve the French problem at out-half?
Only a blind man with blinkers could deny all is not well in that part of the field but where to begin?
Best place to start is probably to define the role of the 10 in French domestic rugby…..Traditionally, France has always had a significant divide between backs & forwards and the out-half was generally “piggy in the middle”. Bernard Laporte walked a 16 legged tortoise around the stadia of France to win the national title in 1991. There was an out-half there too of course, for the kick-offs etc…… Four of the clubs loyal followers were given jerseys 11 to 15. These chaps were useful before a lineout as having clean kit they could wipe the ball dry for the throw in. I exaggerate of course, but not that much……..
Forwards do the work, scrum-halves guide them. When “les gros” get tired you send the ball out to the “gazelles” at the back & hope they don’t muck it up. The fly-half’s role is to act as intermediary between the two & above all else, reward the forwards hard work by scoring with his kicks. It’s very simple really. A 10 is required by the unwritten rules of French rugby “not to fart about & kick properly”. You can understand why Blanco would have built a tunnel to Cork with a dedicated TGV line if ROG had been willing to sign for Biarritz!
But back to the here & now. Trinh-Duc & Michalak are the selected French 10’s. Michalak is at best a 9 and a half imho. He was incredibly hyped up before & during the ’03 World Cup (he’s been around a while eh?) & we saw where that got him. He did a job behind a very vigorous and dominant pack during the Autumn Internationals yet he is but second choice for his club. That pack is no longer so vigorous and Freddie has been all at sea. Confidence is and always has been an issue for him.
Trinh-Duc has made his way up through the ranks of Montpelier, well coached, well protected, has a reasonable tackle, good general skills…….but he can’t kick. Why not?…………. Its not as if he doesn’t have the time or the facilities in which to practise……Temperament maybe? But then, who else is there? Actually when you come to that who else has there been?
Looking back quickly I think of Lacroix, Deylaud, Camberabero, Lamaison even Castaignède……..but apart from possibly Cambé, does any French oh spring quickly to mind when you think of “French Flair”? Obviously Maso, Blanco, Sella, N’Tamack, even Saint-André……….but fly halves? My examples are not exhaustive & I’ll stand corrected but off the top of my head none really stand out.
I do think of Fouroux, Berbizier, Galthié, Ellisade, Yachvili, Parra & many others. All on field generals marshalling their team to victory on many occasions. But they are scrum halves……So if we have a doubt about the suitability of Fred & Francois, who should the French opt for instead? Let’s have a look at the elite Top 14 league.
Toulouse have Mc Alister(NZ) considered N°1 by the club yet a chap on a fishing holiday (Donald) was called up to seal the deal for the Blacks in 2011. Beauxis has worn “Bleu” but is at best a journeyman, a good place kicker but that’s about it. Bayonne have Boyet, who in fairness has been unlucky but is close to calling it a day. Stephen Brett (NZ) arrives next season. Some young chaps on the horizon but nothing for the here & now. Clermont have “Brittle” Brock (AUS), Skrela well past it and Mike Delany(NZ) next season.
Perpie have James Hook (Wales)…….
Racing have Wisisneski, yet to convince & Sexton (IRL) will be there next year. Paris (Stade Francais) have Plisson, a possible, if he can keep Morne Styen (SA) on the bench……..ahem!
Toulon have Sir Jonny, who’s signed for another year (no doubt to the delight of Freddie!)
Biarritz have Peyrolongue, at 32, unlikely. Barraque had a great start to the season but faded….Blair Stewart in Grenoble, nobody really standing out in Castres, possibly Tales. Bordeaux have Lopez, who was given a chance by PSA, didn’t convince the staff & is off to USAP to play second fiddle to Hook, who can hardly get a game with Wales, & finally Monty, with Tin Duck……….
So what is PSA to do?
To be honest, those that have not been picked by the French staff are in no way superior to Freddie&Francois. There are chaps who can’t get a game in their club against Non French Qualified players who are not considered good enough back where they came from. The possible exception being Wilko, an aging if great talent & Bernie would be mad not to use him. In any case, you are judged on what you can or cannot do so until one of these guys steps up to the mark why on earth would PSA change what he has now?
Mind you………….there is one possibility………..one who maybe could do the job……… if you think about it……………he has 49 caps, he can kick & he’s only 24……………but then No………. its probably too mad!
Even for the French…………………….But what about?……………. Morgan Parra?
(image of Phillippe Sait Andre taken from dementedmole.com)