should we be worried about the second line of the Blues, deprived of many executives?

With Meafou, Flament, Taofifenua and Willemse absent, France will present itself in Scotland on Saturday with a new second line, composed of Paul Gabrillagues and Cameron Woki.

France Télévisions – Sports Editorial


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“In the second row, the competition is fierce between Emmanuel Meafou, Romain Taofifenua, Posolo Tuilagi and Paul Willemse”argued Fabien Galthié in mid-January in the bi-weekly Olympic noon. Three weeks later, none of the four men mentioned will start in Scotland, Saturday February 10, for the second day of the Six Nations Tournament. The team will thus be made up of Paul Gabrillagues, away from the Blues for four years but back against Ireland on February 2 (17-38), and Cameron Woki, who started on the bench in Marseille.

Highly anticipated after his recent naturalization, Meafou injured his knee and will still have to wait to discover the Blues. Taofifenua is hit in the leg, while Willemse, sent off against Ireland, is suspended. Tuilagi is promising, but his inexperience (19 years old, no European Cup matches) calls for caution. And we also don’t forget Thibaud Flament, usual No. 4 moved to 5 during the World Cup, injured in his foot. “That’s a lot, right?”, sighed William Servat, co-trainer of the conquest. He even went so far as to mention the hypothesis of making “to go up” up a notch the third line center Grégory Alldritt. In short, DIY.

The Gabrillagues bet on the right

The Blues are particularly decimated in the strategic second-right line position, supposed to provide density in carried balls, help their right pillar in scrum and give advancement in the running game. The distribution of roles in the second line is in fact clear under the Galthié era: on the left, a slender profile and jumper in touch (Flament, Woki), and on the right, a mover to fix the defenses (Willemse, Taofifenua). At least, until the World Cup.

“The French proved that they could do without a ‘big’ right-hander by putting Flament [116 kg] in 5 at the World Cup” after Willemse’s package, analyzes Jérôme Thion, former international second row and consultant for Canal +. Far from being the most desperate in the collective slump against Ireland, Gabrillagues will occupy the position at Murrayfield with his 115 kg, when the four competitors cited by Galthié have between 12 and 34 more.

The fact remains that he has not started a match in this position for two years at Stade Français. “But he has the experience and, above all, Laurent Sempéré [nouveau co-entraîneur des avants et ancien du club parisien] knows him very well“, supports Thion. Its relative weight deficit is not prohibitive either. South Africa was thus world champion with Franco Mostert, 111 kg, on the right of the cage.

“It’s not a question of weight, but rather of management, mastery of the position and adaptation.”

Jérôme Thion, former international second row

at franceinfo: sport

If Gabrillagues does not have the punching force of Meafou or Taofifenua, he will be relayed by another “beam”in the person of Posolo Tuilagi. “We shouldn’t burn his wings too much, but he clearly has the profile to play on the twenty last minutes”, continues Thion. In Marseille against Ireland, the 19-year-old from Perpignan showed his potential on a few charges in half an hour on the pitch. His 149 kg, facing tired defenses at the end of the match, make him the ideal finisher. This configuration also makes it possible to balance the right axis of the scrum, since in front of him, the replacement pillar, Dorian Aldegheri, weighs 20 kg less than the colossus Uini Atonio (147 kg).

To the left of the second line, the construction site is smaller. Relegated to the bench in the name of strategy “of fought intensity” wanted by Galthié against Ireland, Cameron Woki makes his return in 4 in Edinburgh. The side captain is expected in a sector where the Blues lost four shots and failed to build in Marseille. “He can be a real asset and a game-changer”hopes Jérôme Thion.

A short-term project, no worries for the future

The construction site is therefore open. When those absent are back on their feet (perhaps before the end of the Tournament for some), we can easily imagine Flament and Woki sharing the No. 4 position and Meafou, Taofifenua and Tuilagi taking turns on the right, where the breeding ground remains provided.

Sent off for two high tackles against Ireland, Willemse blew a joker and will be suspended for the next two matches. Neither his age (31), nor his physical fragility, nor the poor form of his club (Montpellier, last in the Top 14) work in his favor. Especially since the next generation is coming strong. Besides Tuilagi, another rookie appears in the list of 34 called up for the Tournament: Matthias Halagahu (Toulon). “It is not a surpriseconfides Galthié. He is a fighter, a player capable of playing 4 or 5. He will even be able to announce the line-out in the future.” Which therefore looks rather bright, despite the difficulties of the moment.

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