Lievremont Shows Johnson The Way

15 03 2010

What a contrast last night’s France versus Italy game was. Not only did France play quite sublimely on occasions, the Italians showed a willingness and level of invention which has been missing from their game for some time. Indeed with the Italians playing in this fashion, the title for the 6 Nations ‘Least Inventive Team’ is a straight fight between Scotland and England. Considering the dynamism of the Scottish back row, we will plump for England.

For probably the first 20 of his 25 matches in charge, Marc Lievremont, has been heavily criticised for the manner in which he chopped and changed his squad. What has been interesting throughout this tournament, is that he appears to have finally settled on his core group of players who can take him through to the World Cup next year and he must be feeling a certain amount of vindication. When you consider, also, the quality of players not involved in last nights game, Cedric Heymans, Maxime Medard, Damien Traille to name but three, we feel that France will probably be the only northern hemisphere team capable of challenging for the World Cup title.

It might be early, perhaps, to compare his regime with Clive Woodwards highly successful time with England, yet there are parallels. Early in Woodward’s time in charge, he often plucked players out of relative obscurity who either thrived or often sank without trace after a couple of caps. The key was that he wasn’t afraid to pick a player on a hunch, perceived potential or even after only a couple of good performances. Lievremont, one feels, is cut from much the same cloth. Some of his selections have caused a collectively raised Gallic eyebrow amongst the French media, yet he has shrugged his shoulders and carried on anyway. Certainly we feel that Martin Johnson could probably learn a little bit from these attitudes although England’s well documented problems are as much to do with the way they are trying to play, rather than who is playing. You do feel though, that was Lievremont coaching England this season, players such as Lawes, Youngs and Ashton may have been given their head for a couple of games at least with the license to play.

Nick Mallett’s job, which involves attempting to create a competitive team from a very small pool of mediocre to good players, is not an easy one. He had also been roundly criticised before the start of the tournament as to the apparent backward steps, Italy as a team had been taking. Yet with victory over Scotland, a close run defeat to England and a spirited effort against France yesterday there is cause for optimism.  As we mentioned above, the two tries scored late in the second half were as good as anything the French produced. Yes the game was lost, but it showed that they are capable of scoring in more ways than the pack picking and driving. With Wales in disarray, the Italians must fancy their chances of pulling off a second win in the competition, or at the very least running them close.

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