France feel immediate impact from Edwards arrival

When Shaun Edwards joined Fabien Galthié’s coaching staff, a lot was made about the impact he could bring to Les Bleus.

When Shaun Edwards joined Fabien Galthié’s coaching staff, a lot was made about the impact he could bring to Les Bleus.

Few would have expected the impact to be so immediate, but considering Edwards’ past, we maybe should have done.

After all, in Edwards’ first Championship in charge of the Welsh defence, they conceded just two tries over five games on their way to a Grand Slam in 2008.

France will be hard-pressed to match that, considering that Jonny May went over twice in Paris on Sunday, but their defensive effort in a 24-17 success over England was much improved from their heavy defeat to England at Twickenham a year ago.

That day England were able to pick Les Bleus apart with their attacking kicking game, but new full-back Anthony Bouthier was an assured presence at the back for France on debut.

Edwards’ defensive system, which Galthié had borrowed during the World Cup when he worked as an assistant to Jacques Brunel, ensured there was sufficient cover in the backfield, leaving England less space to kick into than a year ago.

But while the kick coverage was obviously much-improved, it was tight defence that really stood out and had this French team resembling Edwards’ great Welsh defences.

In damp conditions, the French were remarkably disciplined in their own 22 and able to keep England at bay despite Eddie Jones’ men making numerous incursions close to the home line.

In fact, while England spent 8m35 in the France 22, compared to just 1m25 for France according to AWS stats, it was the home side who ran in three tries.

And even the two England scored were from longer range and individual May magic.

Once they did get into the 22, England struggled to find a way through with France’s defence proving exceptional.

Their 19 dominant tackles threw England off their game and just as crucial was their ability over the ball, securing three key breakdown steals, an area that Edwards had identified when he first took the job.

Added to that, their discipline was exemplary. France conceded just seven penalties in total, and three of those were from their scrum which came under huge pressure in the final half-hour.

Take those out and you have just four penalties, a remarkable effort for a team who spent so long defending.

That has not always been the case for France in the past, and Edwards will have been pleased to see his players meet the high standards he sets.

Grégory Alldritt was deservedly named Player of the Match for his 18 tackles, a crucial turnover on his line and some powerful carrying.

But his back-row colleagues Charles Ollivon and François Cros made 16 and 15 tackles between them. None of the back row missed a tackle.

Bernard Le Roux was even more active, racking up 23 tackles in a relentless blur of red scrum cap smashing back England carriers.

In the midfield, Edwards had made Gaël Fickou his defensive captain, and the centre responded with 18 tackles as both Manu Tuilagi and then first-half replacement Jonathan Joseph were kept largely quiet.

Edwards being Edwards, those two England tries will dominate his post-match reflections, but the defensive discipline shown by France bodes well at the start of this new era for Les Bleus.