France are now the only unbeaten team left in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations following their win over Ireland, and it was their discipline that played a big part in victory in Paris.
Les Bleus had conceded 14 penalties in a 37-10 win over Italy in Round 1, knowing that a repeat against Ireland would make it almost impossible to win.
Instead, France halved their penalty count, conceding just seven on their way to a 30-24 success over Andy Farrell’s team.
The biggest change came on the defensive line. Against the Azzurri, France were penalised four times for offside, while they were able to avoid conceding even one offside penalty against Ireland.
And the latest episode of Destin Mêlés, a series on the FFR’s YouTube channel that gives behind the scenes looks at the team’s progress, showed just how defence coach Shaun Edwards and former international referee Jérôme Garcès, now a full-time member of the coaching team, were able to solve those issues.
First we see Edwards explaining in French to the players how they need to start further back when lining up in the defensive line.
He shows them on a screen: “Back-rowers here (points to the defensive line being too high), one metre of difference. The consequences are that you defend a maul, a pick-and-go, maybe a yellow card and a penalty try.”
Then it is Garcès, who refereed the last World Cup final, who explains where France were strong, notably at the breakdown, and the areas they need to work on.
He says: “We can see where we are good so we want to continue that because we’re good at it. That’s the defensive rucks, there were no penalties. In attack there were two penalties, not too bad.
“But we can improve. We push a player without the ball, penalty, we close off a player, penalty. On Saturday, that will be so important.”
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Second row Cameron Woki explains Garcès’ role: “His view is crucial for us and will be for the remainder of the Championship.
“He’s helped us to manage our discipline and we’ve tried to put that in place in training and we’re going to try to put it in place in the match to avoid giving away easy penalties to Ireland.”
The input from the duo clearly made a difference for France, who were able to tweak their strategy, maintaining their discipline while still being very aggressive at the breakdown to slow Irish ball and deny them the quick ball which they enjoyed against Wales.
Where last week in Dublin, Ireland had 72% of their ball from the breakdown in less than three seconds, that figure was slashed to 53.2% in Paris, with the first half proving particularly difficult for the visitors.
There are more intriguing aspects to the episode, including Gabin Villière receiving his prize for being the standout performer in the win over Italy, as well as some of the words in the changing rooms from Fabien Galthié, William Servat and others during the win over Ireland.
And there is even a catch-up between Tadhg Furlong and Cyril Baille in the changing rooms after the game.