Bagshot (United Kingdom) (AFP) – England coach Eddie Jones compared veteran French counterpart Jacques Brunel to a boxer who had gone the distance with heavyweight great Muhammad Ali as he forecast a gruelling Six Nations encounter for his side in Paris.
Saturday’s match will be the first time Brunel has taken on England in his current role as France boss.
But having served as forwards coach when current French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte was in charge of the national side and, more recently, head coach of Italy, the 64-year-old Brunel knows reigning Six Nations champions England well.
Jones, who first came across Brunel some 20 years ago, said the former Perpignan coach had always picked physically imposing teams and that nothing had changed now he was in charge of France.
“Anyone who can last the distance, go 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali… if you coach professionally for 20 years you are doing a lot of things right,” said Jones on Thursday.
“He’s a good selector, he’s got a certain style of play, always picks big physical teams, they always play like that and if they’re good enough they win.”
But Jones was confident an England side without injured regular captain Dylan Hartley at hooker would be able to best France physically despite their shock 25-13 loss away to Scotland last time out.
– ‘Brutal’ –
“We are expecting a tough old tussle. But as long as we are brutal and ruthless at the gain-line, I think we will have too much for them,” the Australian explained.
“It will be a tough game and he (Brunel) is a great coach.”
This has been France’s first Six Nations under Brunel, who replaced the sacked Guy Noves.
Brunel was unlucky to see France lose their tournament opener to Ireland, now chasing a Grand Slam, following a last-ditch drop-goal from Jonathan Sexton.
Then came a 32-26 loss to Scotland in a match where France were on top until late on before a 34-17 success against Italy in Marseille — Les Bleus’ first victory in nine Tests and 11, long, months.
Jones, however, was not surprised by France’s progress under Brunel.
“No, as I said at the start of the tournament I always thought they would be a much better team.
“They have an experienced coach in place who knows what international rugby is about…He’s a disciplined coach and they’re starting to play like that, so it hasn’t surprised me at all.”
– ‘Investing’ –
Unlike their Six Nations rivals, France have never had an overseas coach in charge of their Test side and Jones said: “I’m sure every country would like to have their own nationality as coach because there is a lot of national pride involved, so I don’t think they are missing out on anything.
“They are investing in French coaches and good luck to them.”
Jones’s teams have long been renowned for their fitness, something France will have to match if Saturday’s match is a close contest.
“You either get out and set the tone or the last 20 you are either closing the game down or you’ve got to accelerate what you are doing,” Jones said.
“I think the good teams traditionally do well in those periods.”
Brunel has made one change to his side, recalling Francois Trinh-Duc at fly-half in place of Lionel Beauxis.
“The young boy Trinh-Duc, he’s not that young any more,” said Jones of the 31-year-old, a veteran of 64 Tests.
“He takes the ball to the line more (than Beauxis), got a good attacking kicking game but they are similar types of players.”