Bernard Jackman: Experimental French side sure to cause Joe Schmidt a few problems

I wonder what Guy Noves must be thinking this week as he prepares to pit himself against Joe Schmidt for the first time in international battle.

The new French coach saw his side sneak to victory against Six Nations minnows Italy in his first game at the helm on Saturday.

It was a performance that was below par, full of errors and mistakes. The media and the paying public were left unimpressed.

Yet I think that Noves will not be too downhearted.

I liked his selection: He picked young talented players, who showed some glimpses of their potential in snatching that 23-21 win in Paris. And if he sticks with them I believe that France will again become a team that deserves respect.

It was quite a ballsy and brave approach to take for a new coach and it is in sharp contrast to the other new man on the sidelines in this Six Nations campaign, Eddie Jones, who has decided to stick with the majority of the English squad that failed so miserably and spectacularly at the World Cup a few short months ago.

Noves named four debutants in his side to face Italy, centre Jonathan Danty, scrum-half Sebastien Bezy and lock Paul Jedrasiak joining former sevens sensation Virimi Vakatawa (wing) as the new blood.

He also appointed a new captain in Toulon’s Guilhem Guirado and made no secret of his policy in the lead up to last week’s match. “We have had to change everything,” the coach said matter-of-factly.

Such an influx of inexperienced personnel will actually make Joe Schmidt’s job much tougher this week. As always he will have studied last week’s match with his normal forensic detail but it is impossible to make concrete assumptions on the basis of one performance so he will be forced to look at footage of these new faces featuring for their clubs in an effort to work out their strengths and weaknesses.

Their scrum and their ruck ball is certainly one are that Schmidt will focus on attacking. However, I think that the most obvious weakness is their defence out wide and also their defence of the back field to the attacking kick and chase strategy.

The full back and his two wingers should defend in a ‘pendulum’. By that I mean they work together to cover the pitch.

For example: If the right wing moves up into the defensive line then the full back slips into his place on the right hand side and the left wing will go to the middle of the field.

Communication and understanding is crucial for these positions.

Vakatawa is hugely talented but he hasn’t been playing the 15 man game for two seasons and showed all the signs of that on Saturday with poor positional sense and awareness. As a result he is often in the front line earlier than he should be which means that their full back often over compensates and joins the line quicker than he should which leaves big space in behind — space which Schmidt will no doubt target. Don’t be surprised if Ireland opt to kick more often to exploit those huge swathes of ground when presented with the opportunity.

Gael Fickou, who played 13 against Italy, has made himself unavailable for personal reasons for the visit of Ireland and will probably be replaced by Maxime Mermoz who is much more experienced and a smarter defender. However defensive structure isn’t the priority for Noves in the short term. His focus is one thing: Attack.

Against Italy they were very passive in defence so if Ireland attack with the same intensity that we did against Wales (seven linebreaks) then will make serious yardage. And hopefully reap the rewards.

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