Noves the remedy for French 'malaise'
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: France are showing signs of a revival after a 'malaise' of several years because they have chosen the right coach in Guy Noves, that's according to former Irish great Gordon D'Arcy.
Noves, who replaced the much criticised Philippe Saint-Andre after the 2015 World Cup, forged his reputation at Toulouse, whom he guided to four European Cup trophies and 10 French championships.
For D'Arcy, the 63-year-old - who declined the post in 2011 - has sparked a renaissance in the French team, who face a stern test of how far it has come against Joe Schmidt-coached Ireland on Saturday in their Six Nations clash.
"France have been battling a malaise for the past several years because they haven't found the right coach. That failing cannot be underestimated because the man at the top directs and sets the tone.
"Noves is the best guy because he understands the clubs and their needs and also the challenges of being a club coach. He lives and breathes rugby," D'Arcy said.
D'Arcy, who was capped 82 times and formed a world-class centre pairing with Brian O'Driscoll both internationally and at their province Leinster, said Noves was restoring the traditional values associated with French rugby to the national side, something which despite being one of France's most dashing players, Saint-Andre eschewed for the English style.
"Saint-Andre having learnt from his time in England anglicised their [the French side's] game and focused on a largely kicking one. There was nothing wrong with the premise but the trouble was that the game had already moved on and he and the national side were left with a battered image.
"They had been over anglicised for too long and now we are seeing the fruits of Noves' labours beginning to emerge. For instance there is a settled team for the first time in ages. Also you can see across the board the French have got serious about the national side.
"A major step is their players are not having to play in the Top 14 in between Six Nations matches," he added.
However, D'Arcy, who was player of the 2004 Six Nations for his role in Ireland's Triple Crown exploit, says the notoriously fickle French fans must restrain themselves with regard to trophy success.
"There will be a delay lag and a bit of patience will be required," he stated.
By the same token D'Arcy says criticism from Irish fans and indeed some former players of Schmidt lacking a plan B when his finely-tuned and well honed match strategy has been exposed by their opponents lacks sense.
"I have very rarely been coached with two game plans in mind. If the plan doesn't work what are you going to do huddle round and say right now we move to our other strategy. Ireland stuck with their game plan against Scotland even when they trailed in the first-half and came back to lead with 10 minutes remaining," he said.
D'Arcy, who retired in 2015, said Schmidt's masterplan had borne remarkable rewards last year.
"You can say they [Ireland] are predictable but then it is a battle of philosophies.
"With this game plan, they came close to back-to-back victories last year over the All Blacks. Indeed, if the new tackle rules had been in place they might have done it because the All Blacks would not have had 15 players on the pitch.
"So the game plan does work. The reason Scotland won is they played on the edge, testing the referee, because they are not the polished article yet," he stated.