France and Gloucester defence coach Dave Ellis looks back at the Six Nations campaign and ahead to this week's preparations for the visit to London Irish in his weekly update.
Dave Ellis - Weekly Update
Congratulations to Wales and Mike Ruddock's team. Overall the Welsh deserved their Grand Slam, it was their excellent attacking football that made the headlines, however it was their defence that won them the title.
Their scramble defence against England at the Millennium Stadium and late in the second half to thwart a rampaging French team was magnificent. In retrospect, the five minutes of madness in the second half in Paris probably decided the final outcome of the Championship.
The tournament has also been seen as a huge success for France with so many new players introduced to the competition. Back in 2000 the French team was very reliant on its skipper and inspiration Fabien Galthie. When Fabien was in the side it seemed to install the players with extreme confidence and we played some excellent rugby culminating in the Grand Slam of 2002.
Long term, we had to find an alternative solution, as Fabien was nearing retiring age and to have the team reliant on one individual is far from ideal.
Bernard Laporte is often criticised for the number of players he has used, but to build a solid squad you need to expose individuals to international football and with only 10 to 12 games in the calendar per season it gives you few opportunities.
The French squad now has much more depth. Perpignan's formidable prop, Nicolas Mas and Sale hooker, Sébastien Bruno boosts our front row strength. Grégory Lamboley provides flexibility, being equally at ease in the back row or forming a useful second row with Fabien Pelous, Jérome Thion or Pascal Papé.
In the back row Yannick Nyanga and Julien Bonnaire have been a revelation and with Serge Betsen, Olivier Magne and Imanol Harinordoquy still very much on the scene, there is genuine competition for places.
At half back, Yann Delaigue may not be everyone's favourite, he has however provided some excellent display's this year and offers a more pragmatic style compared to Frédérick Michalak's flamboyant approach. Dimitri Yachvilli and Pierre Mignoni are both good scrum halves and Jean-Baptiste Ellisalde should not be forgotten.
In the three-quarters we have unearthed two quality centres in Benoit Baby, man of the match against Ireland, and David Marty, who celebrated his debut with two tries against Italy in Rome at the weekend. Yannick Jauzion and Damien Traille remain an awesome combination and with the unlucky Ludovic Valbon and Brian Liebenberg waiting for their opportunity, our midfield options appear in good shape.
Losing full back Nicolas Brusque to injury was a huge blow, but the performances of Julien Laharrague since his debut against Wales have been truly exceptional. Safe under the high kick and explosive when running the ball, Laharrague has been a major plus for the squad.
We next meet for the tour of South Africa and Australia in June, where we play two tests against the Springboks and one against the Wallabies. It will give many of our new players the opportunity to develop their international careers and stake a claim for the ultimate prize, the World Cup squad in 2007.
Coming back to Kingsholm after the intensity of Six Nations rugby is quite refreshing. The international experience enables me to spend time perfecting the detail of defensive structures and helps me put theories into practice.
I analysed the Gloucester Vs Northampton game at the weekend with renewed enthusiasm and concentrated on where the problems originate. It is not just the final missed tackle; faults can happen in alignment, communication or simply not being efficient as a unit.
Often a clean break, or a score occur as a result of a number of what seem minor details, not moving up effectively or being slightly out of position. In isolation these faults may not be catastrophic, but in sequence over two of three phases create a domino effect, resulting in confusion and disarray.
Every player in the team must play their part in the defensive structure and work as a collective unit. It is no good having some players covering for others, this only stretches our line further. Each player has an important role to play and they must accept their responsibilities to create an effective overall unit.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
Skipper Billy Twelvetrees, speaking to GRTV after the 35-10 over Zebre, was happy with the bonus point win over the Italian side but admitted Gloucester will need to tighten up for the return fixture in Parma.
Gloucester Rugby welcome Sione Kalamafoni, Greig Laidlaw and Tom Palmer back to the starting line up and feature David Halaifonua in a matchday squad for the first time, as they resume Aviva Premiership action against Bath Rugby at Kingsholm on Saturday (kick off 5:30pm).