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'France have a staff that doesn't really inspire confidence and that's a bonus for Ireland'

Dragons coach Bernard Jackman spent six years working in French rugby.

A NEW COACHING staff, a host of uncapped players in their squad, a new out-half and no footage of this particular French collective for Joe Schmidt to sink his teeth into – there are many unknowns this week for Ireland ahead of their clash with France.

Such a fresh start for les Bleus should surely bring optimism, but it appears to be scarce on the ground in France at present.

Bernard Jackman Currencyfair 2 Bernard Jackman is a brand ambassador for CurrencyFair. Source: Robbie Reynolds

Dragons coach Bernard Jackman is a man who knows a thing or two about French rugby, having spent six years with Grenoble before his move to Wales last summer, and he has major doubts about this being a bright new era for France.

FFR president Bernard Laporte has appointed ex-Italy boss Jacques Brunel as France’s new head coach in place of the sacked Guy Novès, but Jackman explains that it hasn’t been a popular decision in France.

“It’s probably not the most inspiring choice,” says former Ireland international Jackman. “Brunel and Laporte go a long way back – he was part of Laporte’s support staff for France 20 years ago.

“It was interesting, there was a straw poll done by Canal+ amongst the public on what they thought about the new coaching staff.

“11% said they had confidence in it, 20% said they’re worried, 39% said ‘all that for this?’ and then 30% said ‘bring Novès back’.”

There is a bitter history between Novès and Laporte, meaning the ex-head coach’s position was untenable, but the FFR then saw Fabian Galthie and Patrice Collazo turn the job down before Brunel accepted.

With Brunel then adding an inexperienced coaching staff of Julien Bonnaire, Sébastien Bruno and Jean-Baptiste Élissalde around him, Jackman believes it has been “an opportunity missed” for French rugby.

“They have a staff now that doesn’t really inspire confidence and that’s a big bonus for Ireland,” he says.

“It’s a worry for France that they’ve gone through a change but it’s hard to see the type of coach like Vern Cotter or Joe Schmidt who could really revolutionise French rugby and get it back to being amongst the best in the world.”

Jacques Brunel Brunel is in charge of les Bleus. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

In terms of what style we can expect from France, Jackman points out that the chat from within les Bleus’ camp indicates that Brunel has handed plenty of the responsibility to his players.

“There’s been a lot of talk internally from them saying the coaches have said that they want the players to pick the game plan,” explains Jackman.

“The style of coaching in France is often quite dictatorial but they want to have an element of fun in everything, so the players have been involved in the strategy for this week, which is unusual for them. That will probably give them an increased sense of responsibility and being actors in their own play.

“But I just don’t see how that group of players, with the inexperience they have, could come up with a game plan that’s good enough to beat a Joe Schmidt game plan or an Eddie Jones game plan or a Gregor Townsend game plan, just in a couple of weeks.”

“I think they will try and play an offloading game. Ireland’s defence will shut that down – it will just force more errors.

“Teddy Thomas has loads of x-factor, Virimi Vakatawa has loads of x-factor, so they can obviously win individual battles but the system will always compensate for that.

“Unless they have got really good shape and they are creating consistent opportunities to offload, I don’t think the Irish defence will get stressed.”

Indeed, Jackman’s expectation is that Ireland will gain energy from French errors, while he also feels that the Irish pack can frustrate les Bleus with their scrum efficiency – set-piece success having been so crucial to the French win in Paris in 2016.

While there are several exciting new faces in Brunel’s squad for this Six Nations, Jackman finds it difficult to understand how one of their previous totems has been omitted.

Louis Picamoles Jackman finds it hard to understand Picamoles' omission. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“There are massive question marks around why Louis Picamoles isn’t in the team. That’s nothing to do with his form or his ability, it’s more personality a little bit, but they’re holding themselves back by not having him there.”

19-year-old Matthieu Jalibert is set to make his Test debut in France’s 10 shirt, despite having just nine Top 14 starts under his belt.

Jackman expects Ireland to target the Bordeaux playmaker defensively, but doesn’t feel that is Jalibert’s major weakness. Instead, the question is how he will guide France around the pitch, if selected ahead of 21-year-old Anthony Belleau.

“It’s exciting the fact that they’re going to go with a young 10, probably Jalibert, but realistically it’s a big learning curve for him,” says Jackman.

“He is very talented but in a game of this magnitude with a patched together game plan, it’s pretty hard to see how Ireland wouldn’t be able to manage it.

“The big issue for him is not around his defence, I think it’s around is he going to be able to control the game?

“I would say Jalibert has a decent ability to kick. He has got a long kicking game but is he going to be able to find space in the Irish backfield?

“Ireland defend with 13 on their front line, with two in the backfield. They work incredibly hard and they are very smart so he might see space but it will close quite quickly.”

And looking at Ireland, Jackman sees real strength ahead of this fixture and this championship, with their depth standing out in particular.

Joe Schmidt Jackman sees Schmidt's team as very settled. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

While France have had yet more upheaval, Jackman also believes the settled nature of Joe Schmidt’s coaching team is a major plus.

“We’ve got a coaching staff who know the players inside out,” says Jackman. “The players are very familiar with how Joe builds them from two weeks out from a game and then obviously match week.

“There is real consistency there and I think players get comfort from repetition and knowing what they are doing in their environment in terms of their analysis of the game plan and how their intensity in training gets them to peak on match day.

“There’s been very few examples under Joe where we went out and haven’t performed. We haven’t won every game, but we’ve gone out and performed. There’s a really settled look to this Irish team and coaching set-up.”

Former Ireland international and current Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman was speaking at the offices of CurrencyFair in Dublin. CurrencyFair, the currency exchange platform, have partnered with Jackman as a brand ambassador for the 2018 Six Nations.

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