Former Springbok scrum coach and current Scotland scrum coach, Pieter de Villiers, believes that this French team is a winning generation, who have the potential to win a first ever World Cup in 2023. They are the real deal, he told Mark Keohane.
I haven’t given the current French team enough plaudits, waiting for that inevitable implosion.
I’ve bet against them for the Ireland and Scotland Six Nations matches.
They won both comfortably.
I wanted my mindset challenged and few South Africans know the French psyche like De Villiers.
Born in Malmesbury, De Villiers left South Africa at 20 years old and started a journey in France that would lead him to 150 games for Stade Francais (where he won the Top 14 five times) and 69 Test Caps for France in the front row – between 1999 and 2007 – which included the 2007 World Cup quarter final in which the French sent the All Blacks home.
De Villiers also lost just twice in eight Tests against the Springboks and his final Test for France was in the 2007 World Cup semi-final defeat in Paris to England.
The French will again play hosts to the biggest tournament in world rugby, but De Villiers will be turning up to the stadiums in the colours of Scotland, as scrum coach, and wary of Fabian Galthie’s young group of men.
I have always been of the opinion that France’s lack of consistency and coherency over any extended period of rugby meant that they would never have it in them to take home home the Rugby World Cup. To me, France have always been king of the upset and champion for the rugby-loving non-realist, capable of some brilliant displays and absurd victories, but equally capable of implosions of the same scale.
In speaking to De Villiers however, I was offered insight and a different opinion on this specific group of Frenchmen, who he believes are serious contenders for the cup, in their home country.
“Being a World Cup contender is a hard task for any team, but I do think the French are doing a lot of things right at the moment”, said De Villiers.
“If you think of the president of the French federation, Bernard Laporte, he’s been a man of trophies, he knows how to win trophies – with Stade Francais and Toulon, all those years back. He’s got an appetite for and experience of winning, and he’s surrounded himself with a coaching staff that he’s worked with before and who he trusts.
“Fabian Galthie, Raphaël Ibañez, William Servat; All these boys have worked with him [Laporte] in the past, they were his players, and they’ve gone on to have success individually in their coaching careers. So he’s got a good and trusted management and coaching staff around him.
“Laporte has also done well to build good relationships with the clubs in France, which can be tricky. If the federation doesn’t have a good relationship with the clubs it can be difficult for the national team to prepare well, which isn’t the case at the moment. They’ve been able to get big squads together for their training camps, sometimes over 40 players, and this is immense in allowing Galthie and his team to work with their squad in preparation.”
Aside from the management and the improved structural relationships among French Rugby’s federation and the clubs’ administration, De Villiers also spoke of the quality of this new generation of French player, pointing to France finally ushering in a generation that knows how to win, under a generation of management characterised by success more so than inconsistency.
“They have a good player generation at the moment in (World Player of the Year) Dupont and co, who have won several World Cups at U20 level. Fabian [Galthie] cleaned up house a bit when he came in, and has brought in a winning generation of youngsters, who equally have done well to rise to the challenge of Test rugby.
“And you can’t write off the motivating factor of having the World Cup in France, the fact that the team has the crowds behind them. Especially this current team, who play with power and know how to build pressure but also grind things out. They also have enough X Factor to finish things off first-shot, from the foundation laid up front.”
France’s biggest challenge, De Villiers believes, will be for France to not get ahead of themselves – something they have fallen prey to in the past.
“It doesn’t look as though they are doing that at the moment, they’re doing a good job by keeping their feet on the ground”, says De Villiers.
“But another factor to consider is that to win the World Cup you pretty much have to win seven games in a row, from group to knockout stages, and that’s another area where French sides of the past have not been consistent. With all that said, they are a team doing a lot of things right at the moment, with a lot of things going for them, and I do believe they are contenders for the cup.”