Dave Ellis - Weekly Update
'A game of two halves' - never has this over used football cliché been more appropriate to describe my weekend.
As I sat in the Stade de France on Saturday afternoon and saw the dramatic events unfold in our Six Nations game against Wales, and then to my astonishment watched almost a carbon copy, with Gloucester's 27-27 draw up at Newcastle.
The defeat against the Welsh was perhaps one of the most entertaining championship games ever. Both teams played some breathtaking attacking rugby and the media who had previously been so critical of our performances (despite the victories against Scotland and England) were collectively positive. Even some high ranking FFR officials seemed pleased with the result.
For an Englishman in the middle of this Gallic emotion, I found the response to the result totally bizarre and alien to my upbringing. My background, from a working class Yorkshire family, who developed an appetite for rugby through the competitive structure of junior rugby league, taught me that the most important element of the game is winning and that everything else is secondary.
I'm not suggesting this 'winning' mentality is unique to someone from my background, far from it, but it seemed totally at odds with the aftermatch response on Saturday evening. Fortunately, I'm not the only one who is disappointed. Bernard Laporte, not the media's favourite, holds similar pragmatic views.
Champion teams in sport often have what is described as a 'killer instinct'. The great Liverpool football team of the1970s, the Leicester and Wigan teams of the 90s in Rugby Union and League, and the Aussie cricket team have the ability not only to dominate the opposition, but more importantly close out games. It is this factor that all coaches seek and I am no different, it is what we aim to build and instil in both the French and Gloucester teams.
The French first half performance was excellent, we looked extremely sharp on attack, particularly in the threequarters who rediscovered their creative edge. Our defence was also exceptionally good, rushing the Welsh team into handling errors and subsequent turnovers.
The second period couldn't have been more different and a team displaying this 'killer instinct' would have simply slowed the game down, continued to play football in the appropriate areas, but display more control and respect field position. We failed to do this. Critically we lost the ball in wide positions providing the Welsh team with perfect opportunities to counter attack and they certainly have the personnel to take full advantage.
The main factor now is to learn from this game and develop a strategy that incorporates the many good points of the performance, but equally removes the bad. The Grand Slam is gone, but the championship is still within our grasp if we remain focussed and gain victories in Dublin and Rome.
I was extremely distraught on Sunday morning, but fortunately there is no time to dwell on matters and I soon packed my bags and caught the flight home.
My next job was analysing Gloucester's performance against Newcastle and there were many similarities to the Welsh game, in so much as we totally dominated the first half and allowed the Falcons to claw there way back into the game.
The blatant forward pass allowing Matthew Tait to cross was one of the worst I've seen and I am sure is one of the reasons why Dean (Ryan) was so critical of the refereeing in general.
This weekend we entertain Bath at Kingsholm in the semi final of the Powergen Cup in what is our biggest game of the season. I hope we produce a quality performance, but frankly I would accept any type of victory!