Welsh coach expects another big effort from France
Updated: October 11, 2011, 03:39
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Wales defense coach Shaun Edwards is happy to explode two of the myths surrounding the French at the Rugby World Cup: that they produce only one big performance at each tournament, and that they are unpredictable.
On the first count, he points to their record in the Six Nations championships and their form at past World Cups to highlight the fact France, which meets Wales in the semifinals on Saturday, is more than capable of backing up big performances. Edwards has no reason to believe France's 19-12 win over England in last weekend's quarterfinal will inevitably be followed by a lesser effort.
And he also took issue with the old perception of French unpredictability. As the mastermind behind Wales' defense, it's his job to predict what France will do.
"I heard their coach said that, that they have to overcome the obstacle of having only one big performance in them,'' Edwards said. "I heard their coach say that a few times but if you look at France over the Six Nations of the last five or six years, they're the team that's won it the most, so that shows they can consistently perform for four or five games.
"So it is in the France team to be consistent and they do have the ability to be consistent. I'm not quite sure of their record at the World Cup but there's been more than one standout performance. Everyone talks about the All Blacks defeats that they've done. Can they back it up a week later? We'll see on Saturday.''
Edwards speaks quietly and thoughtfully and his face, sculpted by more than a decade in one of the world's toughest professional sports, reveals a hard-won wisdom. He politely but firmly dismisses the suggestion the French are unfathomable.
"I think there's more structure in world rugby in general,'' Edwards said. "I think the French, along with everyone else, keep playing to certain set patterns which you can pick up.
"But I'm sure their attack coach will be adding lots of different patterns and different variations of certain formations that they do. It's my job to put my mind into what he's thinking so he doesn't outfox us.''
Edwards predicts - as a further answer to French unpredictability - that France's key players on Sunday will be the scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili, No. 8 Imanol Harinordoquy and fullback Maxime Medard.
"You have to look at the No. 9 and No. 8,'' he said. "I thought they were pivotal in the victory (over England).
"They were outstanding and there's probably Maxime Medard carrying (the ball). He's got magical feet and he beat a lot of players - even when they lost against Tonga he was outstanding, so Medard is a player we have to watch out for.
"A lot of it starts with the driven lineout. They have a very explosive driven lineout and that 9, 8 combination is very vital to them.''
Edwards is a particular admirer of Yashvili, as a former scrumhalf turned coach.
"He could be a great coach one day because to me he looks like a guy who totally understands the game of rugby,'' he said. "He always seems to be calculating, to be one step ahead or even two or three steps ahead at a certain time. He looks to me like the sort of player his forwards like to play with because he's continually telling them what to do or almost coaching them out there on the pitch. That would be my assessment of Dmitri Yashvili.''
When it comes to predictability, Edwards says that doesn't extend to the result.
"I think it's a 50-50 game, based on the fact that France have won three out of the last four contests between us,'' he said.
"It's 2008 since we last beat them. Our form has been a bit more consistent coming into this game but in the end it's a 50-50 contest and may the best team win.''