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Why France should sign Robertson

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Why France should break protocol for Crusaders' coach Scott Robertson

Having missed out on the All Blacks’ head coaching role, Scott Robertson will settle into the task of regenerating the Crusaders and gunning for a fourth consecutive Super Rugby title.

The Crusaders’ head coach is contracted for another two years at the franchise until 2021 and will be off-contract later that year. He may have another shot at the All Blacks coaching gig halfway through the next World Cup cycle if New Zealand Rugby’s succession planning goes south.

However, the demise of the All Blacks over the next two years to the point where the coaching staff is cleaned out is a very unlikely scenario. Foster is at short odds to get a contract extension if he can maintain a strong home record and keep losses at two or fewer a year.

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That would mean Robertson will have to look elsewhere if he is to coach at the next World Cup – but that might allow him to tick the box seemingly required in order to coach the All Blacks at a later date.

Despite winning a major title in all but one year of his coaching career so far, one sticking point that is argued against Robertson getting the All Blacks’ top job is his lack of overseas coaching and international-level experience.

Of all the overseas landing spots on offer, the most attractive international coaching destination is France, where the national side has underperformed for nearly a decade but still holds ‘sleeping giant’ potential.

As the hosts of the 2023 World Cup, France will have a desire to be in the best shape possible. Unique circumstances call for unique measures.

What could be a more perfect situation for Robertson to prove his international credentials than by taking France deep into the World Cup as the host nation?

There are few countries that have national playing pools that can provide the depth that top-level coaches want. France, with its own domestic Top 14 league, is one of them.

Despite being known for splashing cash on the global superstars of the game, the Top 14 has cracked down on foreign-player numbers in recent years, forcing teams to field more French-eligible players.

And despite all the criticisms lobbed at France for their haphazard play over the last decade, French rugby is on an upswing.

They have won the last two World under-20 Championships, proving that they still possess some of the world’s best age grade talent. Many of this crop will be filtering through to the top side by the next World Cup.

Their Six Nations squad for 2020 includes some brilliant young stars as they have finally moved on from some elder statesmen following their quarterfinal exit in Japan.

Louis Carbonel, Romain Ntamack and Mathieu Jalibert will fight over the vacated 10 jersey left by Cammy Lopez. Even Toulon’s talented flyhalf Anthony Belleau hasn’t made the squad this year.

Antoine DuPont is the French version of Faf de Klerk and is a halfback who can become the best in the game. Along with DuPont, a number of Toulouse’s spine has become an integral part of France’s next generation, including hooker and new captain Julian Marchand, and fullback Thomas Ramos.

There is no shortage of dangerous outside backs in Damian Penaud, Teddy Thomas, Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa, who are all brimming with attacking potential.

What they have lacked in recent years, besides the right selections at times, is a coach who can find the balance between tactical smarts and the French ‘firebrand’ style of attack.

The side is consistently inconsistent and is always a risk to offer a limp performance. Too often the national side has made comical errors that have turned the team into a laughing stock.

Rugby evolved and the French lackadaisical approach got left behind.

There is huge untapped potential within the side to be achieved over the next few seasons, which is why Robertson would be a radical but excellent choice to make that happen.

He has proven to be able to lift his players and keep them operating at a high level, bringing a fresh approach to an international game largely coached by an older generation. He could be the motivational type to ignite French rugby and get them to understand the finer details that matter.

The energetic coach has expressed a desire to return to France at some point to coach, having played at Perpignan in the sunset years of his playing days.

The FFR vehemently holds a desire to employ a French coach for the national side. Language barriers aside, sometimes exceptions should be made.

If Robertson comes on the market and France haven’t lifted their performances in the first two seasons under Galthie, the FFR should break the bank and go after Robertson. Even if 2020 is underwhelming, perhaps they could push for a release by the Crusaders to give him a three-year runway.

The recent record of Southern Hemisphere coaches in the Northern Hemisphere adds weight to the decision. Wales, Ireland, and England all captured three Six Nations titles each over the 2010s. New Zealanders Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt, and Australian Eddie Jones were in charge of seven of them.

There wouldn’t be a side more feared, particularly in New Zealand where many thought he should have got the All Blacks’ job, than a resurgent France coached by Robertson peaking in 2023 for a home World Cup campaign.

Matt Giteau on being smashed in the 2003 RWC final: 

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Why France should break protocol for Crusaders' coach Scott Robertson