March 22, 2012
Posted on 03/22/2012
Pressure on PSA
By sticking with the older generation for the Six Nations Philippe Saint-André put himself under pressure to get it right from the off.
My worry with him has always been his ability to put together a backline which offers a real threat with ball in hand, and after five games in charge I’m not convinced he is going to prove me wrong.
The use of four different half-back combinations in five games is the proof that he doesn't really know what he wants, and while I’m sure a kicking fly-half like Lionel Beauxis suits the game he prefers, the Toulousain is too limited at international level.
Saint-André now has a huge task on his hands, which starts with deciding on a game plan, because taking on Wales with the plan of limiting the margin of defeat just isn’t acceptable.
Julien Bonnaire, William Servat and Lionel Nallet will take some replacing, they were three of the stars of Marc Lièvremont’s time in charge, and deserved better than to go out with defeats.
Looking at the forwards there is certainly talent coming through in a lot of positions, but we have one or two issues which are becoming a major concern.
Servat, who is arguably still the best hooker in Europe, leaves a massive hole, and frankly Dimitri Szarzewski has not progressed from the promising youngster who burst on to the scene six years ago.
There is a youngster in Christopher Tolofua at Toulouse who should be the long-term answer, but at 18 he probably isn’t ready for a tour to Argentina. In the meantime we might see the return of Benjamin Kayser, but no one really inspires confidence.
The propping situation is also a concern, with Thomas Domingo seriously injured, and Fabien Barcella a shadow of the prop before his snapped Achilles. Yannick Forestier deserves a look at loosehead, but at 29, he’s hardly the future either. At least tighthead looks more promising with young Clement Ric.
In the second and back row I’m not too worried - Yoann Maestri already looks at home on the international stage, while Louis Picamoles and Fulgence Ouedraogo can mix it with the best.
When it comes to the half-backs I think Saint-André needs to find a pairing and stick with it, and on current form that probably has to be Morgan Parra and François Trinh-Duc, though I’d like to see Jonathan Wisniewski tour in the summer.
Wesley Fofana was arguably the standout player for France, but has to play in the centre, and I’m still convinced his partnership with Florian Fritz could be devastating. Sorry to say but it’s time to bid farewell to Aurélien Rougerie.
As for the back three, Jean-Marcellin Buttin showed why he is so highly rated, and will surely be a regular fixture, but there is a lack of outstanding wingers in the Top 14 at the moment.
All in all, it was an underwhelming tournament, and Saint-André has a lot to prove. We’ll see after the next two Tests whether he has been able to bring through some youngsters and whether a more coherent game plan is in place.