Legendary France flanker Serge Betsen has proclaimed himself baffled at the decision of coach Philippe Saint-André to play Louis Picamoles, more commonly a number eight, on the blindside flank in the game against Ireland tomorrow.
“I’m really surprised by this call from Saint-André,” said Betsen, who won 63 caps for France in a glittering international career that spanned a decade.
“I would like to get some explanation of why he is putting Picamoles at six. It’s really surprising seeing that.”
Betsen admits, however, that of far greater concern than Saint-André’s odd selection decisions is the continued absence of anything resembling intensity or a gameplan from this French side.
“It’s not really, for me, a matter of who’s going to play where,” noted the former Wasps player. “My concern is more about the whole team and their capacity to play great rugby, a great intensity of rugby.
“This is what was missing last week in Scotland, and this is what I am hoping to get from them on the weekend. I hope we’re going to see France for the first time play with great intensity and great passion, and see France correct their attitude in the set-piece, where they struggled last week against Scotland.”
There will certainly have to be a step up. The French snuck past an unconvincing Scotland side last weekend, and the challenge they face this weekend is far greater. Ireland arrive in Paris as probably the form team in the hemisphere, having scored scored thirteen tries and conceded just two in their four games so far. France, by contrast, have scored seven and conceded seven. They have already been pumped by Wales, who were duly taken to the cleaners by Ireland. Surely the hosts can’t win this weekend, can they?
“I hope so, I hope they will beat Ireland. I think that after the last game in Scotland, and the difference with the Irish beating Italy, it’s going to be a difficult one, but who knows?
“First of all I hope, this week, they have had lots of time to talk about the psychology of the game, but also why they played so badly. I don’t know if they have any questions or answers regarding this aspect, but in terms of the result, it is going to be a big ask for them.”
Hope, then, is the order of the day, rather than expectation. But strangely enough, the same applies to the Irish, who arrive in Paris knowing it is a city in which they have not won since the turn of the century. That is the kind of history that can do strange things to a man’s mind.
On the subject of the strange, Philippe Saint-André’s selection policy has been baffling pundits and fans alike for as long as we can remember, and this championship has been no different. With increased grumbling from media and fans, Betsen is coy over his own thoughts on whether Saint-André is the right man to lead France forwards – but does not exactly wholeheartedly throw his weight behind the incumbent coach.
“I cannot answer this question at all because whatever the situation, he is going to be there until the World Cup, as he has said that is his target. I hope they don’t carry on like this, with all this frustration; I hope France are going to play better rugby in the future.”
“I know that it is going to stay like this until the World Cup; nothing is going to change.”
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Legends Rugby ambassador Serge Betsen was launching the Legends Rugby Festival, which takes place on 12th July in London. For tickets, head to www.legendsrugby.co.uk.