France and Gloucester defence coach Dave Ellis offers his regular weekly thoughts on the Six Nations, as the French national side head into their final championship game of the season.
Dave Ellis - Weekly Update
There's a lot of nonsense written about French rugby, usually from the uninformed English media that we're unpredictable and inconsistent.
If being unpredictable means keeping the opposition guessing what you might do next, then yes, I don't mind agreeing with that. Surely this is what every team aspires to.
Inconsistent, no, I totally disagree. We have our bad days like any side, but three defeats in the Six Nations Competition since 2001 is not the record of an inconsistent team. The defeats, two of them in 2003 against Ireland and England, both away, and against Wales this year in Paris.
I do however accept that the French have a different outlook on life and also their rugby. This was perfectly illustrated on Friday last week. Having arrived at the Merrion Hotel in central Dublin at mid-morning, we duly unpacked our bags and met for lunch. Training was scheduled for 3.00pm at Lansdowne Road and the players changed into their kit and began stretching.
Bernard Laporte then called the players together and began his address. Towards the end of Bernard's motivational speech, Jo Maso, accompanied by several bottles of the finest champagne joined us. Flutes were distributed amongst the squad and we had the somewhat surreal situation of the entire French squad toasting Fabien Pelous (for achieving 100 international caps), in the centre circle at Lansdowne Road before we run a training session. It could only happen with the French!
The Irish game was similar in many respects to that of the Welsh. We imposed ourselves early in the first half, our forwards totally dominated both scrum and lineout and our rolling maul seemed to sap the strength from the usually rampaging Irish pack. In the three-quarters we looked sharp and inventive, and two superb tries by Christophe Dominici and Benoit Baby sent us in at the break well in command. If anything we felt we should have been further ahead.
At the interval we used the Welsh experience to focus the players. I knew there would be a period where the Irish would put our line under extreme pressure. It was vital our defence was watertight. This was the critical period, the match result hung in the balance, but we managed to stop them getting the early score and although our kicking game was far from perfect we at least made the right decisions in the right field positions.
The stats show we made only 37 tackles during the first half, including only one miss tackle. The second half tells a very different story, as we had to defend for long periods, 107 completed tackles and the Irish enjoyed 66% possession. We conceded 13 penalties, Ireland only seven, having viewed the game several times I feel we were harshly treated.
Benoit Baby's 'rush of blood' may well cost him dearly as he goes in front of the disciplinary panel this week and could well miss the Italy game. Although I don't condone violence of any sort on the pitch, Benoit seemed incensed with Brian O'Driscoll's use of the boot in a ruck prior to the incident. It was a reaction rather than premeditated.
We have an almost impossible task to retain the Six Nations title, to beat Italy by a large score and then hope Ireland defeat Wales heavily at the Millennium Stadium. For the neutral this year's competition has been one of the most exciting and no one would have predicted the Welsh would be on the verge of gaining a Grand Slam. Who knows there might be one more twist to this year's championship?
Italy won't be easy to beat in Rome and they, like us, will be hoping to finish the Championship on a high. Preparation this week has been good and as well as keeping our strict training regime we have also had the opportunity to relax. On Monday we visited Palais des Sports in Paris to watch the European fly-weight boxing championship. Following the third round stoppage the French squad were introduced to the crowd and presented with replica boxing gloves.
Needless to say, providing boxing gloves to young rugby players resulted in some good-natured bouts. Back at Marcoussis , the chief protagonists Frederick Michalak and Julien Laharrague organised a make shift boxing rink and although the squad is unlikely to provide genuine title contenders, it did make for some great entertainment.
Back at Gloucester, the result against Northampton was extremely disappointing, I genuinely thought after the narrow defeat against Bath we had 'turned the corner' and would end the season well. I've yet to see the video so it's difficult to provide an informed view, but I'm looking forward to getting back to Kingsholm and getting the players focussed on our last four games - anything can still happen!
Gary Jones of Glevum Windows and Conservatories recently visited Kingsholm Stadium and the Cherry and White supporter spoke exclusively to Gloucester Rugby TV after marking two decades as a box holder in the Stowford Press Stand at Kingsholm. A great feat!
Speaking to the local media this week during preseason, new hooker Richard Hibbard said he was really enjoying putting in the hard work and being back to full fitness ahead of the 2014-15 season with the Cherry and Whites.
Nick Walshe was unveiled as Gloucester's new Backs and Attack Coach this week and spoke to Simon Ward for the RFU.com podcast about his excitement at joining Gloucester and working with a new group of players.
Speaking after the Third Test defeat to New Zealand, Ben Morgan told RFU.com that the loss was a disappointing way to sign off the summer tour but that the England team know what they have to do to be successful.
At the end of a tour when there have been so many positives for England, fly half Freddie Burns, who will start the third Test against New Zealand, was clear that the whole squad are focussed on signing off with a memorable win when he spoke to RFU.com
Speaking to Steve Jones of RFU.com straight after the 27-28 defeat to New Zealand on Saturday, Billy Twelvetrees spoke of the frustration of a missed opportunity, but stressed that England would lick their wounds and bounce back.
Freddie Burns contributed 12 points in England's 20-15 defeat against New Zealand on Saturday but, speaking after the game to RFU.com, preferred to talk about the many positives in the performance from Stuart Lancaster's side.
Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan put in a great individual performance as England were just pipped by New Zealand by 20 points to 15 in Auckland on Saturday. He told Steve Jones of RFU.com that the team will be in good spirits going into the 2nd Test in Dunedin.
It's been marked in the diary since the spring, but rugby will be returning to Kingsholm on July 31st. The holders host the Premiership Rugby Sevens for the third consecutive year, and Dan Robson can't wait to get on the field with the new look squad.