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Sunday 4 December 2016

Forget Sexton threats from France, Michalak had better watch his own back

Horgan says French 10 has not fixed his flaws

France have tried to intimidate Jonny Sexton again this year ahead of Sunday's showdown. However, their own out-half Freddie Michalak has come under scrutiny from former Ireland winger Shane Horgan
France have tried to intimidate Jonny Sexton again this year ahead of Sunday's showdown. However, their own out-half Freddie Michalak has come under scrutiny from former Ireland winger Shane Horgan

Forget about France sending an army of renegades to harass and hunt down Jonathan Sexton.

Les Bleus would do well to look after their own out-half Freddie Michalak before they go looking for Ireland's talisman.

The Irish game plan will have a great deal to do with zeroing in on the much-travelled and most inconsistent playmaker, blessed with mercurial gifts, cursed by confusion over how to best use them when the pressure is on.

And the pressure will be on at The Millennium Stadium.

The one-time darling of Toulouse and French rugby has won the trust of his national coach Philippe Saint-Andre over the likes of Camille Lopez and Francois Trinh-Duc.

He has had a roller-coaster career, bouncing over and back from Toulouse to the Natal Sharks in South Africa, before settling in Toulon in 2012 where he played second-fiddle to Johnny Wilkinson until the England out-half's retirement.

"He has sort of reinvented himself, but I don't know on what basis he has reinvented himself," said former Ireland wing Horgan.

"The flaws in his game still exist, his inability to manage the ball around the field, a slightly shaky tackling game, the slightly shaky kicking game."

Whereas Ireland have copped flak for their lack of edge against Italy, the French were able to subdue the previously inert Azzurri, albeit as a pale imitation of last week's force without Sergio Parisse.

"He hasn't been exposed to that red-hot battle yet," said Horgan.

"In fairness, when they did play England in the warm-up, he was protected from a very strong performance by the forwards.

"He is a great player with a dominant pack and his team going forward.

"But, you know what, there's very few fly-halves that aren't good in that position."

Horgan went further, suggesting France won't go all the way with Michalak at the controls.

"I don't think he is what they need. I think they need someone who can balance the game," he stated.

"First and foremost, you don't win a World Cup if you haven't got a 10, who can control the game and get you around the park."

This all came with a caveat born out of the experience of the natural unpredictability of the French.

"Listen, that doesn't say that they can't beat Ireland," he warned.

"But, I don't think they can win the World Cup with that game.

"They can have a one-off, amazing performance and we've seen them do that in many World Cups.

"But, doing it consistently performing and getting through the quarter-final, the semi-final and winning the final, I don't think you will do it with Freddie Michalak."

The way a host of French players have lashed out at Sexton and trotted out intimidating language could be a sign of their failure to dominate Ireland for the last four years.

"Over every extended period of time, except for the last four years, France were always a much better team than Ireland," said Horgan.

"I think that is difficult for them because their teams have traditionally been used to beating us and so have their coaches.

"It could be a bit of a pride thing," considered the Meath man.

"All of a sudden, these upstarts, this small nation, not a lot of people playing rugby, not a huge tradition of Grand Slams or in the World Cup, as France do, are being judged as France's equals.

"It is just that things have changed in this short period of time."

The question is can Ireland keep the momentum of winning this duel?

Or will France restore the old order by setting a new trend?

Ireland v France, Sunday, Live TV3 (ko 4.45)

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