France's spine taking shape
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: After eight months of licking their wounds, French rugby finally had a victory to savour on Saturday when they beat Argentina 28-13 in Lille.
The result – just their third victory in 10 games in 2018 and their first since beating England in the Six Nations in March – produced a palpable sense of relief as Jacques Brunel’s men sealed a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the pool-stage fixture against the Pumas at the World Cup in Japan in 10 months time.
There were hints of a return of French flair as exciting wing Teddy Thomas stole in for two of their three tries.
“We see that when everyone plays his part, we get to do beautiful things,” backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde told reporters on Sunday.
The most important aspect for the French was that they closed out the win, something they have struggled to do in 2018.
In the Six Nations they lost in the last minute to both Ireland (15-13) and Wales (14-13). Last weekend they were pipped by a try five minutes into the added time scored by Bongi Mbonambi as South Africa snatched a 29-26 win at the Stade de France.
The French management, though, is not getting carried away by a single win.
“This team is under construction or rebuilding,” said Elissalde.
“We have been going through a difficult period for a long time with these unbelievable finishes to matches, upside-down crazy adventures.
“It’s hard to recover from this every time but these bad moments help to unite the team,”
Brunel has been working on unity and building a spine of leadership and experience since he took over from Guy Noves last December.
That spine starts with the captain Guilhem Guirado, who scored the other try against the Pumas, and now extends through players such as centre Matthieu Bastareaud, forwards Yoann Maestri and Louis Picamoles and flyhalf Camille Lopez, now seemingly free of the foot injury that kept him out of the France side for 18 months.
“What a character, what a leader of men,” says Ellisalde of Guirado before casting his gaze wider.
“Connections are happening, a group is starting to emerge and I hope there will be a team, 25 to 30 guys who will know each other almost by heart and have lived together.”
The next step for the French on their path to Japan comes in the shape of Fiji at the Stade de France next Saturday.