Shaun Edwards’ ferocious glare from the sidelines – and his glee at England’s destruction as he sat in his French tracksuit – was the defining image of round one of the Six Nations. Wales’ former analyst, ex-international flanker Alun Carter says Edwards and France are a Paris match made in heaven.
France have finally found a conscience in the shape of defence coach Shaun Edwards.
What is it that sets him apart? Well. he makes Grant Mitchell look like a kitten.
Can one person make such a difference to a team, even though his grasp of the language is something akin to a Del Boy sketch from Only Fools and Horses?
Yes. Fabien Galthie has pulled a masterstroke acquiring the services of the hard man Edwards in conjunction with the selection of 19 uncapped players including a large batch of youngsters.
The senior French players who have been released by Galthie may not have taken too kindly to the no-smoking policy that Edwards has insisted on. The habits of the French culture and the lesser professional drive in clubs may have been too engrained in players like Picamoles, Huget, Medard and Lopez.
But Galthie knows he has a chance with the youngsters to change behaviours. To become more consistent. Consistency has been their biggest challenge. And Edwards is the man whose messages will be ringing in these players’ ears to bring that to fruition.
From the display against England in the opening round it is clear there is more urgency in the French defence – greater line speed, players working together, showing discipline.
Yes, discipline. The last time the French showed discipline was under “The Kaiser” Bernard Laporte. Another scary character.
It must serve them well as he took Les Bleus to two Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-finals in 2003 and 2007 during his seven-year reign.
France will become a serious threat for all countries under Galthie’s charge. A World cup at their own Stade de France in 2023 and four-year contracts for Galthie and Edwards gives this group huge purpose.
The balance of the back row is critical. Look at the great combinations: the World Cup 2011 winning trio of Jerry Collins, Kieran Read and Richie McCaw; the English back row of Richard Hill, Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back who won the World Cup in 2003 – specialists in their own positions.
Since losing Billy Vunipola, England coach Eddie Jones is struggling to hit the right balance with his current back row selections.
The control of the ball at the back of the English scrum against France, was poor allowing Antoine Dupont to put pressure on English scrum half Ben Youngs.
Tom Curry, normally a seven, was slotting in to the No.8 position to fulfil this role. The No.8 has to get his left foot over to channel one to prevent the ball just squirting out of the side of the scrum.
If you are going backwards in the scrum the use of channel one ball is a genuine tactic to get the ball out quickly.
England were dominant and needed to keep the ball in and assert that dominance further. Mixing and matching selection in the back row is not always a success as Steve Hansen can attest to after selecting Scott Barrett at six in the World Cup 2019 semi-final.
For the Scotland match, Jones has selected three players who all play seven for their club. This is either a brave decision or one that shows little respect for the different positional attributes of six, seven and eight.
There is a young 22-year-old who, potentially, could be the stand out player of the 2023 World Cup and in the short term provide great cover for Vunipola.
His name is Alex Dombrandt. In one game for Harlequins against Clermont Auvergne he was exceptional – showing deft touches in his passing game, one of which set up a try for Quins.
He is also a powerful carrier and knows how to play No.8. His omission from the squad is baffling.
Perhaps Eddie needs to spend less time on writing books and more time on getting selection right. It is the most important job of the coach. It did for Hansen in the last World Cup and it could be Jones’ downfall, too.
Whilst Jones struggles to get his selection right, new Wales coach Wayne Pivac seems to be picking players well and some of them even from underneath Jones’ nose.
The Kiwi has unearthed a gem in Saracens centre Nick Tompkins. His short cameo against Italy last week reminded me of Brian O’Driscoll.
He has similar stature but pace, agility and real energy to his game that brought the team and supporters alive.
With Dan Biggar maturing with every year and possibly, dare I say it, from playing in the English Premiership, Wales have catalysts to keep the wave of success rolling forward.
This includes any one of three quality scrum-halves. Rhys Webb impressed last week and together with Tomos Williams and Gareth Davies this is a strong area for the Welsh.
Wales’ biggest challenges this week will come at scrum and at breakdown.
The Irish back row – all specialists in their own positions – of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Josh Van de Flier, may have the edge at the breakdown.
The front rowers Cian Healy and Tadgh Furlong will also provide a nuisance of themselves in this area.
To win for the first time in Dublin since 2012 Wales will need to gain parity at scrum and at the breakdown area.
Sam Warburton has been brought in by Pivac to coach the breakdown area for Wales.
Can Warburton have the same impact as a coach as he did as a player? We shall see.
Ireland were indifferent against the Scots. The British and Irish Lions 2017 pairing of Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton are under pressure.
The Ulster player John Cooney is the form nine and is pushing Murray.
Sexton has been chosen as captain but appears on his last legs with his knee heavily strapped.
It is an interesting move by new coach Andy Farrell to give the armband to the veteran playmaker. Sexton is volatile and can become quite animated when things are not going his or Ireland’s way; not necessarily the attributes of a good captain.
Whether it’s his knee or head which explodes first, the pressure is on Sexton to guide this team back to winning ways with convincing performances.
Last week’s display was far from it.
Pivac and Galthie have made good additions to their coaching teams and have one eye on the future in terms of recruitment and selection.
England and Ireland are playing catch up in this respect. Jones and Farrell are relying on the old guard to give them a foothold for now.
Bravo, Wayne. Bravo, Fabien. Roll on, round two!