THE only way is up, sang Yazz a long time ago. She obviously hadn’t come across the Wales rugby team.
After eight defeats in a row, they are off to Paris this weekend to take on a France side who will be desperate to atone for the embarrassment of losing to Italy.
Philippe Saint-Andre’s team are odds-on for victory and there are doom-mongers who are predicting Wales’s chances are on a par with the Philippe Saint-Andre naming Charles De Gaulle, Jean-Paul Sartre and Eric Cantona in his back row for Saturday.
Fortunately, all isn’t lost, thanks to this column’s assiduous work in putting together a guide to bring about the downfall of Saint-Andre’s side. We’ll call it How To Beat The French In 10 Easy Steps.
1. Persuade them it to let their head coach go off and coach someone else for the Six Nations
There is a precedent here. Wales are in disarray, beaten eight times in a row and down to their joint lowest ever position of tenth in the world rankings, but head coach Warren Gatland is on Lions duty. No disrespect to Rob Howley, but no other country in the world would tolerate such a situation. Still, it is worth trying to see if the French Rugby Federation will allow Saint-Andre to change his focus for a few months. With Dean Ryan involved with Scotland, perhaps the Dragons might be up for hiring another consultant.
2. Encourage them to leave out the form player of French rugby
Not complicated. Just look at the player who has been lighting up the French game this season — Louis Picamoles, perhaps — and don’t pick him. For any tips in this area, the French coach need look no further than Wales, where Justin Tipuric, indisputably the outstanding performer in Welsh rugby this term, found himself benched for the game with Ireland. Look at the impact he made after coming on as sub. Leaving Picamoles out? Vous savez il est logique. You know it makes sense.
3. Sign up one of their key players and then leave him on the bench
Okay, it may be a bit late for this one, but Toulon’s treatment of Gethin Jenkins has been a textbook example of how to throw an important player into disarray: recruit him and then bench him for long periods, leaving him struggling for match sharpness when he turns up for international duty. Get the Blues to sign up Nicolas Mas and then let him shadow Scott Andrews.
4. Urge them to play a two-minute first half and a 78-minute second period
That way the slowest starters in world rugby shouldn’t fall too far behind before the interval.
5. Test their discipline
The French have traditionally had discipline issues, not least when some of their players were suspected of concealing flick knives in their socks in the early years of Gallic participation in the Five Nations. Clearly there might be risks involved here if that tradition has endured, but the assumption is that these days potential on-pitch stabbings are deemed beyond the pale even for French rugby. So it might be safe to tug the odd jersey, even ruffle Morgan Parra’s hair. Try it and see.
6. Award points for singing an anthem in Welsh
There are few things in sport more stirring than a rendition of La Marseillaise by an 80,000-strong crowd before a rugby international. But it is in French, whereas Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau is in the tongue of S4C. Late canvassing of the Six Nations committee for anthem signing in Welsh to be rewarded with points might just prove the difference this weekend.
7. Get the WRU board and head honchos to oversee French rugby
The effects would be immediate and dramatic. This column will organise the transport.
8. Send them Andy Powell to organise some eve-of-game entertainment
The great man’s legend may be based around post-match fun and games, but this column is certain he is sufficiently resourceful to know how to introduce some levity into proceedings on those tense nights before Tests. A few sherbets followed by croissants in un buggy de golf on the Champs Elysees at 5.30am on Saturday morning? What’s not to like, Thierry Dusautoir, Dimitri Szarzewski and Wesley Fofana?
9. Knock out the Welsh centres and tell them they are O’Driscoll and D’Arcy
Or hypnotise them. Anything that will see Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts passing the ball smoothly along the backline as opposed to hurling it into touch. If Paul McKenna can be persuaded, maybe he could coax the pair into introducing subtlety into their play instead of just crashing into people. There is more than one way to skin a tiger. It hasn’t got to be bludgeoned to the floor every time.
10. Pray Dusautoir and Co get out of bed the wrong side
Accepted, it may be a poor substitute for a game-plan, but after last weekend there are worse ideas.