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!
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
It's the first Gloucester-Bristol derby at Kingsholm in over eight years this Saturday (kick off 4:30pm) and, previewing the game with the local media this week, Defence Coach Jonny Bell stressed that, with both teams in the bottom half of the table, they both need the points.
Speaking to the local media this week, Gloucester front rower John Afoa knows the challenge ahead this week against Bristol, and calls on the Cherry and Whites to make the most of home advantage as a determined squad look to bounce back from a narrow loss to Saracens.
Tom Savage speaks to GRTV and the local media as Gloucester went down by 24-20 at Saracens on Sunday afternoon. The second row was disappointed with the result, despite a strong showing from the hosts.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.
Having named an unchanged starting XV for the past three Aviva Premiership games, Gloucester Rugby ring the changes and retain only five players for Thursday's visit of Stade Rochelais in the European Rugby Challenge Cup (kick off 7:45pm).