Owen Doyle: France may well benefit in the long run from Scotland defeat
The arrogance that has been wafting over the French set-up needed to be cleared
Scotland’s Finn Russell is shown a red card by referee Wayne Barnes during the Guinness Six Nations match against France at Stade de France. Photograph:Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
Scotland’s win in Paris was a good result, for France. I’ll try to explain. There has been a recent whiff of something in the air, maybe arrogance?
Ever since Fabien Galthié broke Covid camp that whiff has been around the place – a sense of ‘this Six Nations is ours’. The subsequent love-in between once sports minister, FFR president Bernard Laporte, and the current incumbent Roxana Maracineanu, was, it seems, a match made in heaven. At each other’s throats just days earlier, divorce seemed inevitable. Then, it was reported they had met over lunch.
Laporte is the master tactician. One imagines him saying, as the best Bordeaux was poured, ‘of course, if you wish, chère Roxana, I will sack Monsieur Galthie, but that will see our World Cup plans, here at home, go up in flames. Not too many votes for you in that, I think.’
Achieving the subsequent announcement that all in the garden was rosy, and that no bubble had been burst, apart from those in the celebratory bottle of ‘bubbly,’ was nothing short of genius.
France have a nasty World Cup habit of following epic victories with equally epic defeats. Back in 1987, they didn’t show up in the final against New Zealand after an unexpected semi-final win against Australia. In 1999, with Galthié at scrumhalf, failure again in the final, this time to Australia.
In 2007, they guillotined New Zealand in the quarter-final, but then put their own head on the chopping block, losing immediately to England. Their third final defeat was to New Zealand in 2011.
Total points ‘against’ in finals, 72 with only 28 for. South Africa have three final wins from three. That’s all a chilling reality check.
Losing to Scotland has definite benefits, provided that France realise it is imperative to find a system capable of winning very different-style individual matches, and to finish off the job when it comes to tournaments. There is so much more to do to prevent another epic loss.
Realise too, that playing basketball on a soaking Parisian night was never going to provide the answer.
Before the match, we’d hoped for a ‘quieter’ Wayne Barnes, and, in fairness, he tried hard to deliver – more concise and business like. Work in progress.
Finn Russell’s red card was quite a tough call, but Barnes gave it as he saw it. Barnes was then correct not to award a penalty try to France, the impeded Damian Penaud falling on the ball to score could not have improved the position of his touch down.
The new World Rugby structure will hold everyone to account, very politely, but very firmly; those in charge know where they’re going
There were a few decision-accuracies to be studied, and learnt from. Using first names, too, must stop. When delivering cards, it’s just bizarre nonsense.
And a yellow card malfunction. Having given away a shedload of penalties, Scotland then infringed several times in the same move, but got only a warning. It was a carbon copy of Barnes’s colleague Luke Pearce on Friday when Exeter conceded five successive penalties to Gloucester – also only a warning.
World Rugby are determined to reduce the amount of chatter from referees, and officials must be in the playlist groove for every match, not reverting ‘to type’ in their own unions’ competitions.
The new World Rugby structure will hold everyone to account, very politely, but very firmly; those in charge know where they’re going. Referees, with ambitions to go with them to the next World Cup, should realise there is no guarantee. Hope they know.
As Bob Dylan strums “the times they are a-changing,” it is not before time.
In a recent Zoom call, about 20 people, we were split down the middle in forecasting the result of Leinster v Munster. Fifty per cent were proved completely incorrect, Munster let more than those 10 people down.
The boys in blue should have been out of sight by half-time, but chucking away opportunities, and failing to ground over the line, saw the score at just six apiece. Mike Adamson was recently in charge for Italy v England, enough said. On Saturday he was somewhat better.
Tommy Bowe asked his panel how they thought the referee was doing, I think it was Peter Stringer who said “okay” and that’s the word which comes to mind. Adamson did nothing to change the result and he protected space well, which is a recent and welcome feature these days.
But some penalties looked unnecessary, and some appeared incorrect, or inconsistent. Here’s an incorrect over-punitive penalty, three points too – Munster’s Niall Scannell was found to be off his feet at the breakdown, but Adamson failed to notice that it was Rory O’Loughlin who had upended him. Penalty the other way, please.
A harsh scrum advantage penalty (ball was just out) against Munster was awarded, after Adamson reverted to the offence. Later on, Leinster collapsed the scrum, but the referee did not revert because he had not thought to call advantage this time. Munster would have appreciated consistency.
There were no cards, but might well have been. Chris Farrell was fortunate that his shot on Ross Byrne wasn’t examined more closely. Andrew Porter’s technique went askew as his head clashed with Jean Kleyn, who needed treatment; that should have allowed time for a complete review. Those other boys in blue would have had Porter and Farrell in for questioning.
So, Munster really do have very serious woes. They never looked like mounting anything threatening, or sustaining decent periods of attack, all their old fury and aggression missing. The coaching team are on the edge now, and need a few big results to deflect the enormous pressure which is surely coming.
It has been a brilliant, exciting few months. Players, coaches and match officials, have all lived and travelled in unimaginably difficult circumstances. They all deserve our standing ovation, and our thanks.
Owen Doyle is a former Test referee and former director of referees with the IRFU