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Analysis: Ntamack goal-kicking creates dilemma for Brunel

Analysis: Ntamack goal-kicking creates dilemma for Brunel
  • Romain Ntamack kicked five conversions from six against Italy
  • The 47-19 success was his first start at fly-half for Les Bleus since the 2019 Guinness Six Nations
  • Camille Lopez started the first two warm-up games at No.10

France finished off their World Cup warm-ups on a high against Italy leaving Jacques Brunel with some interesting decisions to make both in his final squad and his first-choice side.

Brunel will announce the 31 players who will travel to Japan on Monday evening, but perhaps more intriguing will be how France line up for their opener against Argentina on September 20.

And it is at fly-half that Brunel now finds himself with two possible options after an impressive outing from Romain Ntamack against the Azzurri.

The Toulouse youngster last started at Test against the same opposition in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations finale, before coming off the bench in the opening two warm-up games against Scotland.

Camille Lopez had been preferred in each of those games, the Clermont fly-half impressing in the win in Nice before being forced off after half an hour in Edinburgh.

In the first of those games he took on goal-kicking duties, a task he has not been charged with on a regular basis at club level since suffering a broken leg in October 2017.

However, Lopez has experience as a front-line kicker, although he made just three of six in the 32-3 success.

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In Edinburgh it was Thomas Ramos, playing at full-back, who took on the kicking duties, but with Maxime Médard restored to the starting line-up, Ntamack took up the baton in Paris.

DUPONT FACTOR

While France have often been able to call on their scrum-halves to kick for goal, the likes of Maxime Machenaud and Morgan Parra, as well as Dimitri Yachvili in the past, current first choice Antoine Dupont does not kick.

The 22-year-old, who can fill in at fly-half, has never been a regular kicker but his game-breaking ability has seen him move to the top of the pecking order for Les Bleus.

Dupont

As a result, France have had to look elsewhere for their goal-kicker, with Lopez, Ntamack and Ramos the three kicking options in the squad – as well as scrum-halves Machenaud and Baptiste Serin.

Brunel will have been hoping to see Ntamack on the money from the kicking tee on Friday night, and he certainly was kicking five from six conversions including a pair of touchline efforts.

In addition, Ntamack played his part in attack including one perfectly-judged cross-kick that eventually led to a try for Arthur Iturria, as well as a well-timed pass in the build-up to a score for Yoann Huget.

VERSATILITY

Whether Ntamack’s goal-kicking is enough to push him past Lopez in the pecking order remains to be seen, with the Clermont man having the edge in experience.

One thing that is certain about this French team however, is that there is a lot of versatility, particularly in the backs.

For starters, Ntamack has played extensively in the centres at club level and even on Test debut, while Ramos started the Top 14 final at fly-half.

Elsewhere in the three-quarters you have Damian Penaud, Wesley Fofana, Gaël Fickou and Sofiane Guitoune who have all started Tests both in the centres and on the wing, while Virimi Vakatawa was formerly a wing but now plays primarily in the midfield.

With Dupont and Serin both also capable of stepping in at fly-half when required, it gives Brunel and his coaching staff a little more wiggle room when it comes to the short turnarounds in Japan.

The decision at fly-half may have the biggest impact on France’s fortunes, but there are lots of options for Brunel when coming up with his starting backline.