Saturday night in Paris will see an avalanche of attacking firepower on show in the Top 14 final between Toulouse and Clermont.
However, when it comes to the Test arena in Japan on October 12, Montpellier backs coach Alex King believes an England team based around the Saracens machine will crucially nullify France in their final Pool C match.
Both Toulouse and Clermont carry potent attacking options for French coach Jacques Brunel, who has yet to decide on his first choice No10 for the tournament in Japan.
The league final at Stade de France offers Clermont’s Camille Lopez and Toulouse’ Antoine Dupont the opportunity to put themselves forward as the answer to a lengthy debate that requires a resolution before a pool campaign in the Far East when France and England will be joined by Argentina, Tonga and USA in one of the toughest pools at the finals.
King has spent the season working out strategies to deal with the best attacking talent in the French league. That list is headed by Clermont wings Damian Penaud and Alivereti Raka along with Lopez, while Toulouse centre Wesley Fofana is playing an exciting brand of attack initiated by Dupont and bringing the best out of a back line that includes Romain Ntamack, Maxime Medard, Thomas Ramos and Yoann Huget. The only consolation for England fans is that Cheslin Kolbe, the brilliant Toulouse wing, is South African.
Une finale de rêve nous attend le 15 juin ! ???
Nos deux clubs partenaires vont tout donner pour soulever le Brennus.?Mais qui ramènera le bouclier à la maison ? ?
— Team Orange Rugby (@TeamOrangeRugby) June 10, 2019
King expects Clermont and Toulouse to provide the majority of back line options, although he would add Gael Fickou (Stade Francais) as a midfield link with Fofana, keep Racing’s Teddy Thomas as a wing option, ensure Toulon’s Anthony Belleau is in the mix at No10 and have Morgan Parra (Clermont) and Maxime Machenaud (Racing) as contenders at scrum-half.
“England will be favourites to qualify from the pool because they have great strength in depth and can muscle up when they want to and also move to a wider game,” suggested King to RugbyPass. The former England, Wasps, Northampton and Clermont No10 is waiting to discover what incoming Montpellier head coach Xavier Garbajosa plans to do with the existing coaching set-up at the club.
“They are also going to be based around the Saracens machine and that mindset will pay real dividends, with Exeter also showing the right mentality. The Premiership is really strong at the moment.
“Toulouse have been fantastic this season and try to give the ball as often as possible to Kolbe who is one of the quickest players in the Top14.
“The two teams in the final will make up the basis of the French back line at the World Cup with Parra, Fofana, Penaud, Raka plus Lopez for Clermont, and Toulouse featuring Ramos, Ntamack, Dupont, Huget and Medard. If you then add in a few more players from other clubs it’s a formidable line up of talent.
“The No10 role for France is such a tough one and he [Lopez] always seems to get dropped when they lose. It’s a reality of rugby life over here and you just hope that Brunel gives someone a run in the position to build partnerships. If you keep on reacting to losses like that you will never get growth,” continued King, the 44-year-old who was the Wales attack coach during their 2017 Six Nations campaign when boss Warren Gatland was on a Lions sabbatical.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) June 9, 2019
“For France to be a real threat to England they have to get their selection and coaching right because as we have seen from Toulouse, they excel off turnover ball, playing unstructured rugby.
“In the final, the kicking game will be key because you cannot just hand back ball to guys like Ramos, Kolbe, Penaud and Raka. France are fortunate to have so many good players in form heading into a World Cup.
“Against England in the Six Nations they picked the wrong No15, and got found out and there are question marks over Raka and Penaud defending kicks – they can be susceptible.”
King confirmed there is “no sharing of tactical ideas” between the Top 14 club coaches and the French international set-up under Brunel, which creates uncertainty over selection and tactics.
Besides England facing threats from French players in the Top 14, King also pinpointed key players from Argentina who have impressed this season in Europe and can be added to the Pumas squad for the finals.
“Nicolas Sanchez has had really good season at No10 for Stade. Juan Imhoff from Racing is very dangerous and always scores tries, while Facundo Isa has done well at Toulon. You also have Bordeaux-bound Santiago Cordero at Exeter.”
WATCH: Episode six of Don’t Mess with Jim, the weekly RugbyPass series hosted by former Scotland international Hamilton
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