How to innovate by associating two world-class forerunners without upsetting the game plan developed for two years? The question will ruminate for another week in the head of Fabien Galthié, coach of the XV of France. Closely scrutinized, the tandem formed by Matthieu Jalibert and Romain Ntamack – the first being aligned at the opening, the second in the center – did not give satisfaction in the victory against Argentina (29-20), Saturday 6 November. In reality, the puzzle only lasted 54 minutes, with Ntamack giving way to Jonathan Danty.
Without being catastrophic, the two openers sometimes gave the impression of stepping on each other’s toes. The duo was not really one since Jalibert and Ntamack waited until the 23rd minute for the first to serve the second. Nothing illogical, insofar as the Bordelais evolved, in offensive phases, at the opening, when the Toulousain occupied a position of second center.
Conversely, Ntamack, more reliable in tackling, defended in position 10, Jalibert positioning himself two notches further. The plan was complex, the realization uncertain. Proof of this clutter, Antoine Dupont, shortly before the break, sent a pass … into the void, since no opener showed up. An unusual slag for the Gersois who said a lot about the offensive stammering of the Blues at that time.
In their defense, it is the whole of the XV of France who floundered in the first act. The main blunder, the one we will remember above all, was committed by the unfortunate Jalibert. “Relieved” of the responsibility for the goal and the penalty kicks (provided by Melvyn Jaminet), the Bordeaux driver was only responsible for dismissals. Alas, it was on a referral to 22 a priori innocuous that he was countered by Pablo Matera, bringing the first Argentine try (22nd).
Jalibert – largely – made up for it by serving up Thibaud Flament, for the first French try (51st), then by raising the ball to send Peato Mauvaka in the in-goal (71st). Like his team, he raised his level of play in the second act and appeared more liberated. It is no coincidence that his return to form coincided with the entry of Danty, offering solutions more in line with this rough match, to the detriment of Ntamack. Should we necessarily make this turnaround a failure? Not sure, especially since we can not frankly qualify as “bad” the performance of Toulouse.
If we have seen him very little with the ball in hand, what about Fickou or Penaud in the first forty minutes? He was mostly content to – well – defend, not helped by forwards dominated in conquest. Its two conceded penalties relate, above all, to collective failures on ground support. It is also not said that the Blues would have suffered more if Ntamack had remained on the ground. The spaces left by the tired Pumas have indeed opened up many breaches for the French.
Clearly, it seems very difficult to learn any lesson from this association, given the context. However, this should continue for the rest of the tour, since centers Virimi Vakatawa and Arthur Vincent will not return for the receptions of Georgia and New Zealand. After this first break-in, “Jalimack” and “Ntabert” will be expected even more next Sunday.