6 Nations 2024 – Imanol Harinordoquy: “We have learned our lesson”

Midi Olympique consultant Imanol Harinordouy has returned to the slap the France XV received against Ireland on Friday night in Marseille. From the height of his 82 selections in blue, he takes an enlightened look at the reasons for this major failure.

Disappointed with XV of France’s performance?
The Blues unsurprisingly ran into a team that played very good rugby, very fair, very strong in all areas of the game. That is the trademark of this team. And once it got the advantage in the score, the France XV became disorganized. I didn’t really see any collective action, no sequence. There was a lot of trash. It was slow.

How the red card contributed to the disorganization of XV. France?
The scenario of the match necessarily complicated the task for the players. At 14 against 15, as far as rugby was concerned, it was mission impossible. We need to be at the top of our form and our rugby skills to beat the Irish. The red card first affected the presence in the ruck. With one less, we can’t afford to consume ourselves so much in the ground combat phases. You have to feed the line, but the other side of the coin is that it offers the opposition a quicker release of the ball. Then, when they lost Willems, the Blues lost their best defender on the ball. His broad shoulders were sorely missed and the Irishman scored twice on the maul. Same observation on the sideline. Willemse is in all combinations because he is a priority “lifter”. It was therefore necessary to carry out a reorganization. And that’s not to mention the coaching that has been turned upside down.

Didn’t the touchline sector actually suffer from a lack of balance?
The staff decided to get rid of Woki early on, which probably explains the lack of variety in the side announcements. And which was exacerbated by Willems’ red card. A boy like Woki was especially lacking in the counter attack. We were always 50 centimeters short of challenging Irish balls. Charles (Ollivon) was blocking the back of the lineup, but in the area between the first and second jumpers, the Irish knew how to use the space.

Did you feel a lack of energy from the French players?
Yes, but if you spend time defending, he will tire faster. It is inevitable. However, the Blues took successive waves and fought back on their heels. At half time we felt that this French team was in a tough physical condition.

Is the choice to believe many 30-somethings guilty?
It didn’t shock me. Having thirty-somethings on the team is not a problem. They are players who have an important shared collective experience. It must be a force. Things went wrong in this match. But there are extenuating circumstances. There were several twists and turns before the meeting. Without forgetting that the first match in a tournament is never the easiest to handle. It was an early final that put a lot of pressure on the players. It will not be easy to digest this slap, we really learned a lesson.

But can the 30-somethings aim for the World Cup in Australia in 2027?
Given France’s rugby calendars, we will never see the 37-year-old in France’s World Cup XV, as South Africa did with Deon Fourie. I think there is a training overload in France. Players are not given time to regenerate. Some people don’t have much left to learn rugby, but we make them train all week. Attention should be paid to this topic, especially for players in their thirties. It’s happening in certain clubs at the moment, but really on the fringes.

Fabien Galthié justified certain decisions with his desire to prioritize “fighting intensity” over “running intensity”. Is it a losing bet?

To be honest, I didn’t understand everything (laughs). First of all, I struggled with intensity, which I didn’t see in Marseille. For me, on the rugby field you have to run and fight and find the right balance. As a result, the French team was caught on these two parameters.

Don’t you feel like you still haven’t gotten over the failure in the quarter-finals of the World Cup?
That’s the question I asked myself before the game. I have received an answer. For me, the players still haven’t digested this defeat. It’s not easy. It even tries. I hoped there would be more mental freshness at the thought of meeting again, starting a new cycle, making a quick impression. Finally, I’ve seen players quickly split up without a solution.

Does the French team not suffer from a lack of real player identity?
Let’s not spit on everything that has been done in four years. It’s a new cycle that starts with new coaches. There is necessarily a change in the discourse, training method, game plans, there is continuity, but not only that. The cards have been dealt. The staff must find an internal balance.

How do you imagine the next meeting in Scotland?
(He takes a long breath) It won’t be easy… The challenge will be tough. As Grégory Alldritt said, the players will have to look in the mirror and tell themselves their four truths. Everyone is waiting for a reaction. I was a player, I know how it goes. They are the first to be disappointed, the first to be dissatisfied with a returned copy. I’m sure there is anger in them. They also know they can’t do worse than Friday night. They will show a different face, I am convinced.

Aren’t you afraid that after the state of grace, the beginning of a difficult period will rise?
Even before this first game, I was worried about it due to the limited resources available to the French XV. Until then, everything was done to put him in the best position to win the World Cup in France. Today it is no longer the case. But I believe in the future of this team.

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