Ronan O'Gara believes attitudes in France towards playing for the national team have changed.
O'Gara is well-placed to judge the French mood right now. He's been head coach of Top 14 side La Rochelle since the summer of 2019 and was also a coach with Racing 92 for four years before heading to New Zealand to work with the Crusaders.
"The mentality has changed," says O'Gara, speaking at the launch of the Aviva Mini Rugby Virtual Skills Hub.
"It was unbelievable to think when I was coaching at Racing that you had some guys you'd hear that weren't interested in going to French camp. That's very, very strange. Now it's the complete opposite. Now it's different – they'd run the 200km from La Rochelle to get to French camp!
"I think they're very organised now in terms of most of the other Six Nations teams. I think they would be big into GPS and big into high-metre speed and accelerations.
"A lot of their data would be similar to the other nations speaking to a few of the fitness coaches here who have friends in the French team.
"They're very much in sync with what's going on with world rugby and I think under Galthie they have a lot of coaches and a lot of people where everything is defined.
"The lineout coach or the ruck coach is 12 minutes, the attack coach is 20 minutes, the defence coach is 12 minutes and it's bang, bang, bang like that and you've got to win the transition. They train at a very high intensity on a Wednesday before a Test match and if you cannot do that session, you won't feature at the weekend."
Pictured is legendary Irish International Ronan O’Gara, who has teamed up with Irish rugby star Eimear Considine to launch the Aviva Mini Rugby Virtual Skills Hub, which will take place over next week’s mid-term break from Monday 15th to Friday 19th February 2021. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Farid Makhlouf
Ireland play France this weekend in the second round of the Six Nations, badly needing a victory to get their tournament back on track after defeat to Wales on Sunday. France started their campaign with a thumping win against Italy in Rome.
"Traditionally, going back 10 years everyone wanted to avoid Italy in the first two games because at the end of the competition they were dead and they didn't have the strength in depth and because of the attrition of the game they'd be down a few key players," say O'Gara.
"Nowadays France for me seem to have a big advantage, because (Italy) is nothing more than a serious hit-out for France to run shapes, run different plays, try this.
"It's nearly an 80-minute period of exploration of 'where my game is'. That's very advantageous to teams in this competition where probably five teams are well-matched and then there's a complete outlier.
"It's hard to know where France are too in one regard. Italy, for long periods, caused them trouble but undid it with an absolute (wild/crazy) offload that was never on, or a dropped ball or a poor decision. While the six good phases they had previously, they'd then give up the ball and France are deadly on turnover ball.
"That's what they love in Top14 and that's what they love at Test level. You can see the French camp is confident and be wary of the French when they're confident.
"They're talking about [winning the Six Nations]. They're talking about it, it's on the radio. It's in the local papers.
"This team wants titles now. Never before has that been in their language. (Charles) Ollivon's saying 'We want silverware, we want to win the Six Nations, we want to win a Grand Slam'.
"They're smart too, the addition of (Shaun) Edwards to their Latin temperament is very interesting and that blend is working well.
"They look threatening on both sides of the ball and they're marshalled by the best player in the world for me - in Dupont - so whether it's good weather or bad it doesn't matter, because he's going to be around the ball and that gives your team such an advantage. In seven or eight years time whenever he hangs up the boots, he's a guy that will have marked this era of players."
Picture credit: Sportsfile
Aviva’s Safe To Dream Team online skills hub aims to improve access for young people on their sporting journey within clubs or at home. To take part, and to be in with a chance to win prizes for your family or kit for your club, and receive discounts on your car and home insurance, families and clubs across Ireland are invited to sign up at www.aviva.ie/safetodreamteam.