Mike Prendergast knows France pretty well by now.
He has interesting views on how Paul O’Connell will fare in Toulon. He has an informed take on Munster’s new import Mark Chisholm.
But he doesn’t quite know what to make of the French national team, except for one pointed message for Joe Schmidt: don’t write them off.
The former Young Munster, Munster and Bourgoin player is back in his native Limerick, helping to prepare his French club Grenoble for their pre- season friendly against Munster at Thomond Park on Friday evening.
Looking ahead to Ireland’s key World Cup clash with the nation of his employers, Prendergast prefers to draw on guidelines from yesteryear than any current form “It will come down to which French side turns up,” he reasons.
“Look at four years ago. There was a massive split between Thomas Lievremont and his coaching staff and the captain Thierry Dusatoir. Players did a solo run and got into a World Cup final and very nearly won. That’s what they are capable of doing.”
Prendergast notes similar circumstances prevail in France right now. “Since then, Saint-Andre has come in but they still have had no consistency over the last four years. I don’t think there’s much trust between the staff and Saint Andre and his players.
“He has picked 16 different half-back combinations, Ireland might have four or five. He doesn’t know who his best 9 and 10 are, the same with second-rows, back-rows. The other thing, for me, is there is no proven goal kicker. He doesn’t pick Morgan Parra regularly.
“Yet it seems to be a happy camp at the moment.”
Prendergast and Paul O’Connell are close friends, so much discussion has taken place between them concerning the latter’s pending move to Toulon.
“When you arrive over, it’s different at the start, different culture, different language but Paul is a smart, intelligent guy who will know how to balance it,” says Prendergast. “He’s going into a world-class team - I suppose the best in Europe - and there will be pressure because they’ll expect a lot from him.
“I think they will manage him well. You look at the rest of the foreign players down there, Bakkies Botha and so on, they’re looked after well.
“The strength and conditioning coach was with the Lions and he knows Paul personally and has worked with him. They are smart. To be fair to the management down there, they keep the players fresh, they have the ability to do that because they have such a big squad so they can rotate their teams.
“Paul won’t play every week. And the other thing, look back three or four years ago, he had a good few injuries and while he has a fair bit of mileage over the last couple of years, there wasn’t a whole lot before that and that’s something that is standing to him. On top of that, he is a top professional and is in unbelievably good nick. You look at Brad Thorn and others and how they keep going for so long ... it’s their professionalism.”
Munster’s new Australian recruit Mark Chisholm will soon be 34, so fits into that category too. Prendergast knows him well from the Aussie’s time at Bayonne. “He is a good player, a really good leader, plenty of experience, probably what Munster need after losing Paul and he’ll be around for the full year which is a big thing. He was captain of Bayonne which says a lot because there aren’t too many foreign captains down there. A few of our boys know him and say that Munster are getting a good signing.”
Prendergast is loving life in France, although he and his squad are happy to be in Ireland to escape the heat in which they have been training for the past month and more!
“I’m contracted again next year so it’s a great experience,” he says. “I coach in French which is the most important thing. We have eight different nationalities in Grenoble and you’re picking a little bit of knowledge from them all. It’s a challenge alright but I love it. This is my third season with a club that hasn’t owners, rather 253 partners running a business. We have to be wise in our signings because we can’t bring in the stars.”
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