Precise preparation for France after axing old heads

Jacques Brunel during the Guinness Six Nations match between Italy and France at Stadio Olimpico on March 16, 2019 in Rome, Italy.
Jacques Brunel during the Guinness Six Nations match between Italy and France at Stadio Olimpico on March 16, 2019 in Rome, Italy.
Image: Emmanuele Ciancaglini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Preparation has been the key word for France who have seen a new head coach and a pair of consultants arrive among their staff ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Jacques Brunel replaced the sacked Guy Noves in December 2017 and former Les Bleus captain Fabien Galthie, who takes over from Brunel after the tournament, as well as ex-Racing 92 boss Laurent Labit have joined the set-up.

They are all looking to continue the French record of reaching at least the quarter-finals of every edition of the tournament.

Standing between them and a last-eight spot and potentially a fourth final appearance in nine editions are Argentina, England, the USA and Tonga.

"In terms of results, we have a difficult pool, our first challenge is to get out of it," said Brunel. "History shows after that France are capable of going very far."

The impact of the advisors was preceeded by 65-year-old Brunel's decision to drop the experienced pair of Morgan Parra and Mathieu Bastareaud in June from his original squad as they looked to implement a quicker style of play.

After training camps in Monaco and Valencia based around increasing the fitness of the squad, Brunel, along with Galthie and Labit chose against axing another veteran, in 79-time international Louis Picamoles.

His display in the final warm-up Test, a victory over Italy was enough to book his ticket on the plane for a third World Cup, before he retires from the international scene.

"He responded to the questions we put to him most notably in the match against Italy," Brunel said.

"He showed his quality and his ability during the big matches," he added.

Two others who missed out were lock Felix Lambey and Dany Priso, the pair had been features of Brunel's lineups and were part of his original squad named at the beginning of the summer, unlike their replacements Charles Ollivon and Cyril Baille.

The duo only made their first appearances under Brunel during warm-up Tests against Scotland and the Azzurri in August.

"We took players who proposed good things during the preparation," Brunel said.

"It's without a doubt his (Baille) performances during the matches which made the difference with our decisions," Brunel added.

One consistency in his selection choices has been among the back-line with the likes of Antoine Dupont, Yoann Huget and Damien Penad being mainstays.

The trio were key as their club sides, Toulouse and Clermont, reached the French domestic final in dominant fashion in June.

"What the new members of the staff have brought in has been good too, more detailed, more to do with the structures. A gameplan where we can kick, we can play wide or we can play quite direct," winger Huget said.

"If we respect all of that I think we can play well," the 59-time international said.

Despite the recent changes, both on and off the field, Les Bleus will look to those individuals to transfer their club form to the international scene if they have any chance of mantaining their record as the only Six Nations side to have reached the quarter-finals at every World Cup.