France defence coach Edwards plays down Covid blues

·3-min read
Teak tough: Shaun Edwards has transformed the France defense

France's feted defence coach Shaun Edwards played down any side-effects from a Covid-19 outbreak within the Six Nations squad, saying the team was looking sharp ahead of Saturday's match against England.

Head coach Fabien Galthie brought Edwards in as one of his assistants after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The former Wigan and Great Britain rugby league star had been a key member of the Wales set-up under Warren Gatland, playing a crucial role as the Welsh won four Six Nations tournaments, including three Grand Slams, and reached the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

And Edwards has had a similar impact on the France team, engendering a teak-tough defence to go with an exciting revival in attack.

"We had a very intense training session today," Edwards said Wednesday, pouring cold water on the possibility the squad might be undercooked following a coronavirus outbreak.

"The players definitely improved during the training session and at the end of it we were looking pretty sharp."

Galthie, three other backroom staff, skipper Charles Ollivon and 11 other players were affected by the virus. A French rugby federation investigation cleared Galthie of any wrongdoing after it emerged he had left the squad's bio-secure bubble to watch his son play a game.

- Issues with penalties -

While there have been no such health scares for England, Eddie Jones' team have only managed one win from their opening three games, over perennial strugglers Italy (48-18).

The English started their title defence with a shock 11-6 loss at home to Scotland before an ill-disciplined performance saw them go down 40-24 to Wales.

"I thought they played really well against Wales," Edwards said of England, who were tied 24-24 with 18 minutes left before conceding 16 unanswered points, including three Callum Sheedy penalties.

"We had issues with penalties in the autumn and we made adjustments and that's been going pretty good for us at the moment. I'm pretty sure England have got some very intelligent coaches and I'm pretty sure they'll made some adjustments."

Edwards added: "The first game I watched, England just didn't have any ball. Scotland dominated possession.

"I think it was 30 percent possession at one stage. It's very difficult to win a game at 30 percent possession. Scotland, let's be honest, they've probably been, with 15 players, one of the best, if not the best team in the competition so far."

Edwards highlighted Ollivon as a born leader, essential as France continue their quest for a first title in 11 years against an English side who pipped them to last year's Six Nations on points difference. France have not beaten England at Twickenham since 2007.

"Charles has worked very, very hard physically over the years to become the size and speed he is now. He's the size of a second-row forward and the speed of a centre," Edwards said of the Toulon flanker.

"His leadership is by example. His chats with the lads are very short and to the point. His play on the pitch sets a great example to the players, particularly the fact that he scores a lot of tries for a forward.

"A try-scoring forward: those sort of people are worth their weight in gold."