England’s Eddie Jones isn’t the only Six Nations coach with a major rebuilding programme ahead of him this spring. Across the Channel, veteran tactician Guy Noves has an equally-daunting task with fellow World Cup flops France.
The 61-year-old takes over a squad not long ago humiliated 62-13 by the All Blacks in the World Cup quarterfinals. It was a defeat that hammered a final nail into the departing Philippe Saint-Andre’s tenure, but also one that highlighted in rude fashion the death of the French focus on attacking rugby.
Under Noves, there is hope Les Bleus can rediscover that joie de vivre and, according to one man who knows the former Toulouse coach well, if flair is what France want, then flair is what France will get.
“As a bloke, [Noves] is very astute,” says former England fly-half Toby Flood, who moved to Noves’ Toulouse from Leicester in 2014. “He’s talked in the past about wanting to bring some of the attacking flair back to French rugby. That’s something the French have always been renowned for and it’s something he always did with his Toulouse teams before. It’s a real passion for him, to reproduce that style of rugby.”
It’s a style that has served Noves well in a coaching career that has seen him guide Toulouse to four European titles — and two runners-up spots — since taking the helm in 1993. Such sustained success, coupled with a more hands-off approach on the training field, empowers his players to take responsibility for their game. But, warns Flood, there is certainly no hiding in a Guy Noves side.
Toby Flood moved to Toulouse in 2014 after spells at Newcastle and Leicester. REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images
“As a coach he’s very much an orchestrator of things,” Flood says. “He watches things from afar and dips in and out when he feels it’s time to speak. A bit like Clive Woodward, he’s more of a director a rugby. He won’t be hugely on the field bossing guys around, he has those coaches underneath him who will do the majority of that.
“He’s very bright and aware of what people are doing and what they’re not doing. He’s a guy who will witness and know what’s happening, and will speak to players if he feels they’re not pulling their weight, or they’re doing too much potentially.”
Noves has used his press conferences in the build-up to Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Italy to call on France to play “spectacular” rugby, while the dropping of Toulon’s battering ram Mathieu Bastareaud signals the days of crash ball are provisionally over.
However, like his predecessor Saint-Andre, Noves can be a divisive figure, and Flood warns the only way his former boss can hope to win over any doubters is to ensure he produces a France team capable of winning once again.
“He’s a polarising character,” Flood says. “He’s been very astute in what he’s said, but also very direct in his comments on things that have happened in the French team. When you sit there in a club for 20-odd years and say certain things about the French Federation and the way they’re playing — then when it comes to having a go, there will of course be people hoping that he’ll fail.
“If you’re an obnoxious person or the nicest man in the world, if you’re winning it doesn’t make a difference.”
“But there will also be those hoping he’ll be successful. With the brand of rugby Toulouse play and the success they’ve had, there’ll be those thinking ‘great, this is a fantastic opportunity’. He has polarised people, but if you look at other coaches — the Gatlands of the world — they do polarise opinion.
“He has ability in terms of the resources he has around him. The squad is very talented and the staff he’s brought in are a group with a huge desire for success. He’s a very passionate man with a passionate family, and he’s not used to losing. That will be something that comes through from him in the way he approaches the squad.
“Success is a real leveller for everything. If you’re an obnoxious person or the nicest man in the world, if you’re winning it doesn’t make a difference. If France go out there and finish second or first in the Six Nations, and play with a vigour and vibrancy, then he’ll be ok.”
While these days he calls France home, Flood was once an England stalwart, earning 60 caps for the Red Rose between 2006-14. As his former teammates face up to yet another transition period after yet another World Cup debacle, the 30-year-old sounds a note of caution ahead of their clash with Scotland on Saturday evening.
“It’s brilliant that this new vibrancy is kicking around England,” Flood says. “After the World Cup, there needed to be a new feeling going into the Six Nations. The players have tried to articulate that, but they’ll also have a little bit of fear.
“They were dumped out of their own World Cup in the worst historical form. They’ll try and put that to bed and say what’s been has gone, but there will be something in the backs of their minds. The last time they trotted out at Twickenham, they lost heavily to Australia, the week before they got dismantled by Wales in the last 15 minutes. That will be sitting in the backs of their heads.”
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Noves can bring back French flair, says Flood
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