Analysis: The search for French effiency

Yoann Huget scelebrates scoring their second try with Antoine Dupont 23/2/2019
Efficiency is the watchword of the analytics movement that has become an integral part of American sport, and even spawned a Hollywood film starring Brad Pitt.

Efficiency is the watchword of the analytics movement that has become an integral part of American sport, and even spawned a Hollywood film starring Brad Pitt.

Moneyball raked in millions and earned six Oscar nominations and at the same time, data continues to play an increasingly large role in modern-day sport.

Analytics in rugby is very different to baseball but the need for efficiency remains the same.

For France, that will be one of the keys when they take on Ireland in Dublin on Sunday in the fourth round of the Guinness Six Nations.

A quick look at the Guinness Six Nations match data powered by AWS, bears out what has not quite clicked for Les Bleus.

No team has made more line breaks than France, with 11 from three matches, while they are also way out in front in terms of number of offloads.

In fact, with 33 offloads, France have made double the next most in the Guinness Six Nations, and despite that, their three tries from open play are the fewest in the Championship.

France can create chances, of that there is no question. Their ability to finish them however, will have to improve in the final two matches of the campaign.

Against Ireland they face a team renowned for their efficiency. Every movement from Joe Schmidt’s side is planned – the coach knows exactly what he expects from his players in every moment.

With such gifted runners as Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou and Antoine Dupont, France can employ a game that is not so structured. However, they still need to ensure those chances are being finished.

In the clash with the Scots, Les Bleus got over the try-line on eight occasions, four times seeing tries ruled out on review.

They still won, and Grégory Alldritt’s late double even secured a bonus point, but that could have come sooner.

That is the challenge for Jacques Brunel and his coaching team. On Tuesday he will name his team, with continuity expected.

That would mean another chance for Dupont and Romain Ntamack to build their understanding as a half-back pairing, and another look at what has been a promising back-line.

The only changes to the squad were the call-ups of Sébastien Bézy and Cedate Gomes Sa for injured duo Morgan Parra and Uini Atonio.

With neither Parra nor Atonio included for the Scotland clash, Brunel could stick with the same 23 that faced Scotland.

This French team is the youngest in the Championship, with eight starters against Scotland aged 24 or under.

That includes six players with fewer than ten caps, so every cap makes a huge difference in terms of experience.

Given the age and relative inexperience of the side, a trip to Ireland will be daunting. You have to go back to 2011 for the last French win in Dublin, a World Cup warm-up victory that came a few months after a Championship success at the Aviva Stadium.

Curiously enough, France had enjoyed plenty of success in Dublin in the preceding decade and a half. Victories rarely came by much, but between 1995 and 2011 Les Bleus won seven of the ten meetings in the Irish capital.

More recently trips to Dublin have been a struggle. France have not scored more than 13 points in their last three away games there and in fact have won just one of their last eight clashes with Ireland, home or away.

That is a record they would do well to end but under Schmidt Ireland have only ever lost once at home in the Championship – the Round One defeat to England – so it will not be easy.

If France want to look to history for encouragement, Ntamack’s father Emile never lost on four visits to the old Lansdowne Road.

The hope for France will be that his son can enjoy similar success at the renovated stadium.