attacking magic

'There is still French flair in this squad' - Les Bleus set for Schmidt's Ireland

Head coach Philippe Saint-André believes out-half Camille Lopez is a ‘fantastic footballer’.

FRANCE HEAD COACH Philippe Saint-André says his team still possesses attacking flair, as they prepare to face Six Nations champions Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

The November Tests saw les Blues in strong form, notching wins against Fiji and Australia before losing out to Argentina in Paris.

France's Camille Lopez PSA has backed out-half Camille Lopez as his main man. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

The French defence was notably more organised than had been the case in the 2014 Six Nations and summer tour of Australia, while out-half Camille Lopez brought better balance to the French game plan in terms of his kick/pass/run options.

The overall impression was of a side reverting to Saint-André’s long-standing preference for an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ approach, in which the collisions are of primary importance.

Still, there were moments of daring attacking magic from Saint-André’s side, with Lopez providing many of them. Even more dangerous on the ball was left wing Teddy Thomas, who scored four tries in two games before being dropped.

On Saturday evening during their Six Nations opener against Scotland, France beat 21 defenders and offloaded the ball 19 times, although there was limited excitement in their game plan despite those statistics.

Saint-André insists les Blues have long been committed to playing open rugby.

“If you remember against England [in the 2014 Six Nations] the last try on 78 minutes [by Gaël Fickou], when we kept the ball for two and a half minutes, with some fantastic offloads, it was a good try,” says the former Toulon coach.

“There is still French flair in this squad and we showed in November that we can score a lot of tries.

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“Our target is still to play an open game, because we have a new squad with young players who like to have the ball in their hands. We feel also that if we want to win the World Cup, it’s impossible just to be kicking the ball and be in defence.”

Among the relatively new faces is out-half Lopez, who continues to impress in the 10 shirt for both Clermont and France. The 25-year-old has taken a unique route to the top, having first come through in Fédérale 1 rugby [France's semi-professional third tier].

He signed for Bordeaux in 2009, helping them into the Top 14, then switched to Perpignan after making his France debut in New Zealand in 2013. A year later, and having been sidelined by an ACL injury, he moved on to Clermont.

Under Franck Azéma and Jono Gibbes in the Auvergne, Lopez has been in sublime form and poses a major threat to Ireland this weekend in Dublin.

I think Cami is a fantastic footballer,” says Saint-André of his out-half. “We knew for a long time, because we picked him in New Zealand two years ago, and afterwards he was injured and out for six months.

“He’s back, he’s doing a fantastic job for Clermont, he did a good job for France in November and we believe the he can carry us and be the man for the Six Nations. Cami is the out-half we think is the best at the moment to bring results for the French team.”

First published at 12.23

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