Fabien Galthié's second mandate therefore began with a new staff. With a violent slap. Patrick Arlettaz replaced Laurent Labit for the French attack, Laurent Sempéré took over from Karim Ghezal for the sidelines and Thibault Giroud gave way to Nicolas Jeanjean for physical preparation. Three sectors which suffered greatly on Friday against Ireland. “There was a bit of a change in the staff, so there was a new touchline system and modifications to the offensive system,” explained flanker François Cros, one of the very few Blues to have survived. Simple ignition delay?
Since the arrival of Fabien Galthié at the head of the Blues in 2020, the French XV had (re)become a benchmark in terms of play, with rugby that was often spectacular and formidably effective. Against Ireland, the Blues were unrecognizable. Transparent and insipid on the attacking front, as in the worst recent times of French rugby. No common thread, no major movements, sterile attacks. If Matthieu Jalibert attempted a few shots by defying the opposing defensive curtain, he also increased the number of cross-field runs, preventing his team from advancing. Obviously, the responsibility of the new leader of the French attack, Patrick Arlettaz, successor to Laurent Labit, calls into question. “I was taken to ensure that we perform as well as possible when we have the ball. All this is a choice of strategy,” explained the former Perpignan coach shortly after his appointment.
Adding: “I’m not saying I’m looking for leads, but I have beliefs, so I’m offering them.” At the Vélodrome, we looked hard, but we don't see what he was able to implement. Rugby ping-pong, a deserted midfield, the tricolor machine was almost at a standstill. “The offensive performance was not there, recognized Fabien Galthié, who had chosen to favor “the intensity fought rather than the intensity run”. There was too much waste, turnovers, dropped balls. Less speed than usual. We did not prepare accordingly.” Next Saturday, at Murrayfield, the pace could be even higher against the playful Scots. Be careful not to explode in mid-flight again.
He arrived at Marcoussis with a reputation as a touchline expert, with excellent results in this sector with Stade Français Paris (87% of balls recovered). His first match with the French XV was not as brilliant and it even turned into a nightmare, as the French alignment was defeated by the Irish. Four misplaced throws and an inability, throughout the match, to be able to start the game. By choosing to align a powerful and combat-oriented second line from Paul (Willemse-Gabrillagues), the staff deprived themselves of the Cameron Woki's effectiveness in the lineup, while another good jumper, Thibaud Flament, was already absent due to injury. And the instructions were clearly not to contest the opponent's touches on the jump, but rather to wait for the Irish when they landed.
This is where the problem lies, the Blues conceded two school tries, constructed in exactly the same way: ball caught by the first jumper and group penetrating ultra-dynamic in stride. Without fighting in the air, the French forwards were then powerless against the green casseroles, superb in control and execution. A fight completely lost by the Blues. Arriving in Marcoussis, Laurent Sempéré insisted that “the idea is not to revolutionize everything but to progress in the sectors that we had identified. The machine is well oiled.” Not really after these two defeats against the two best nations in the world...
The Blues took the tide in Marseille. The worst since the arrival of Fabien Galthié. For the second year in a row, they lost to Ireland, with one thing in common: each time, they were outplayed physically, unable to match the intensity that the green men put into the fight AND the races (Andy Farrell does not choose one or the other). “We were chasing the score all the time. This wide gap has led us to cower, concedes François Cros. We didn’t play liberated, we didn’t put our system in place.” and added: “We know Ireland’s style of play. It’s a team that travels a lot. We wanted to oppose our power to him. “We weren't as physically dominant as we would have liked to be.”
Also read: “We cannot transform the players in ten days”: the secrets of the new performance director of the French XV
The two teams both had two weeks of preparation and the physical gap was glaring, with the Blues literally exploding at the end of the match. Nicolas Jeanjean explained to Le Figaro, before this first match, that “we cannot transform the players in ten days. We can simply alert them to what they will experience on the ground.” For their first match in this 2024 edition, they obviously did not understand what awaited them. And a dangerous trip to Murrayfied is already looming, where Galthié's squad has only won twice in four trips since 2020.