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How France have been 'found out' this Six Nations

By Josh Raisey
France players look dejected after the match ends in a 13-13 tie during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between France and Italy at Stade Pierre Mauroy on February 25, 2024 in Lille, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Just six months ago, France were sweeping aside the All Blacks in the opening match of their own World Cup, with the rugby world seemingly at their feet.

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Fast forward six months and it is nothing short of a rugby miracle that they have managed a win and a draw from their opening three matches of the Guinness Six Nations. One different TMO call against Scotland and a slightly more secure placement of the ball on the tee by Italy’s Paolo Garbisi and Les Bleus would be at rock bottom of the Six Nations table instead of fourth.

A sizeable injury list has not helped Fabien Galthie, particularly in the second row department. Romain Ntamack’s longterm knee injury allied with Antoine Dupont’s conversion to rugby sevens has meant France have also been without their favoured halfback pairing, and that is apparent.

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But former Springboks Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers believe France have been “found out” tactically.

Joining Hanyani Shimange on RPTV’s Boks Office recently, the World Cup-winning duo explained how France are no longer reaping the rewards of their long kicking game. Alongside this issue, Burger added that the 2022 Six Nations champions have lost the intensity that they had just a matter of weeks ago.

Match Summary

2
Penalty Goals
2
1
Tries
1
1
Conversions
1
0
Drop Goals
0
138
Carries
113
5
Line Breaks
4
19
Turnovers Lost
11
4
Turnovers Won
7

“The way they play, I think people have worked them out with the long kicking game,” the former flanker said.

“So much of their game is around 22 entries, the accuracy around the maul and then with Dupont it’s almost like they have an extra loose forward in that 22 play the way he’s a real threat and speeds up the tempo of the game.

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“They don’t have Dupont or Ntamack at the moment, but I think it runs a little bit deeper than that. They’re not getting the rewards from their long kicking game.

“I think they’ve been found out a little bit. Also they don’t have that intensity. If you think back to the quarter-final we played against them, that intensity they had there- the first maul they scored, [Peato] Mauvaka was on the end of it, but it was a 22 metre maul against the Springboks, the best maul defensive side in the world.

“Every time they had a 22 entry, they basically busted down the door and found a way to score a try. This weekend against Italy, when they got that 22 possession, it’s not the same effectiveness. It’s not the same aggro, tempo, spark. It almost looks easy to pick them off, whereas you thought in the four years leading up to the World Cup, when they had a 22 entry you were going ‘okay boys, this is trouble’.”

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Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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