After a 32-10 win over Italy, France may look back with a sense of regret after failing to snatch the bonus point.
For the moment the chief amongst their problems is the cruciate ligament injury sustained by their star winger Yoann Huget. The signs were ominous as soon as the Toulouse man crumbled on the Twickenham turf in pain. One only had to look at the camera shot of him crying on the side lines to see that we weren’t going to see him line out for France in this World Cup again.
What does this mean for France?
Obviously they have lost one of their most prolific attackers and consistent performers. On top of this, France’s kick-chase game has been seriously marred as Huget’s aerial prowess made him a key man for reclaiming possession.
The most likely reinforcements to fill the void in the outside backs is Toulouse team-mate Maxime Merdad or Castres’ Remi Lamerat. Maxime Merdad can run brilliant lines and is no stranger to the try line, he can also cover full back and has the ability to play a traditional French style of play.
Remi Lamerat’s inexperience of six caps could be a hindrance to the French but he certainly adds something different. He is solid in defence and is well able to back himself when making a break. His versatility as a centre and a winger also helps his case hugely.
Another player that could light up the World Cup in Huget’s absence is diminutive winger-cum-full back Brice Dulin. The Racing 92 flyer is one of the most electric runners in the French squad and despite his height of 5ft 10in, he has quite an impressive spring when contesting for the ball in the air.
His ability to ride and slip out of tackles combined with his smart tactical kicking could make him one of the potential danger men for France. There is invariably a French outside back who is electrifying at the World Cup; Dominici 2003, Jauzion 2007, Clerc 2011.
It is a massive plus for France’s opposition. One of Huget’s other strengths is his positioning on the wing when the opposition looks for touch. He often denies fly halves and their teams territory, his absence means that sides will be looking to exploit the French back three.
The likes of Jonathan Sexton, who’s kicking out of hand against Canada was exemplary, will be looking to probe the French touchline and gain a foothold into the French 22. Although Noa Nakaitaci is brilliant in attack, his positioning as an international winger is still in its infancy, so it is definitely an area Ireland can dissect in their final pool game.
The dreaded knee injury has now claimed its third victim (Davies, Halfpenny, Huget) and it has dealt a massive blow to France’s chances. However, injuries happen all the time and replacements often excel in these situations. Think Stephen Donald, fourth choice fly half, winning the World Cup for New Zealand.
Gavin Spillane, Pundit Arena