In one of the worst fortnights in Les Bleus Rugby history, some murmurs are calling for Head Coach Jacques Brunel’s sacking. He may cling to his job with it being so close to the World Cup, but if a poor World Cup performance follows, France may look elsewhere. World Rugby is better with a strong France, and I wish all the best to Brunel in reigniting the French mojo. Hypothetically, if performances stay as they are, I believe there is a more than suitable replacement. Warren Gatland.
Of course, this scenario assumes that Gatland would even want an international job so soon after years as Wales’ head honcho. It also assumes that the French Rugby Federation can sway the New Zealander away from the temptation of the next Lions Tour. But if all this fit into place, Gatland’s skills seem the perfect remedy to the current crop of problems.
Selection has been a major problem for France. Inconsistency is part of this, as France notably made 8 changes for England from the game against Wales. Even more concerning, when comparing the match day squads for the 2018 and 2019 opening 6 Nations fixtures, just 6 of the 23 remain the same for France. It’s meant a lack of collective mental strength, as players haven’t had the time to feel secure in their roles, and leaders haven’t had the time to emerge.
Compare this to Gatland’s Wales side. Most fans would be able to predict at least 10 of a starting 15, and players are well versed and experienced in their duties. In Gatland’s own words, Wales have “forgotten how to lose”, and having trust in the man to the left and right of you breeds composure during challenging spells of test matches. Gatland can also be trusted to bring through the triumphant U20s players who won last year’s U20 World Cup. His reign has introduced various youngsters including an 18 year old George North and 19 year old Leigh Halfpenny.
His structured approach could also prove useful for a pool of players who train in unstructured environments. Multiple professional players have noted how clubs in the French League don’t train with structure as rigidly as teams in the Premiership for example. Teams tend to train with more fluid games that encourages flair, and an ability to thrive in broken play. The approach has its perks, but structured play has its place in closing out tight games. Gatland is the ultimate expert in structured play, and as much as fans have moaned about ‘Warren-Ball’ being boring, it has won him Grand Slams and Lions Tests. Teaching a new set of skills that contrasts the coaching of those in the French Top 14 will make the French more well-rounded players. You only have to look at Joe Schmidt in Ireland or Eddie Jones in England to see what an outside influence with totally different rugby philosophies can do.
This may just be a fantasy selection, but it at least poses the question as to whether Warren Gatland could be the remedy to French Rugby woes. A resurgent France under Gatland travelling to Cardiff in a big 6 Nations game; what a sight that would be.
Written by Connor Dickins