Sir Ian McGeechan is tipping France to snatch the Six Nations title away from Wales – because of the Shaun Edwards factor.
Wayne Pivac’s men have three home matches in the defence of their crown, knowing an opening day victory in Ireland will give them the kind of momentum they built up last year.
After Dublin, Wales have Principality Stadium clashes with Scotland, France and Italy, with their other away date at Twickenham against England at the end of February.
READ MORE: The likely Wales XV for Six Nations opener versus Ireland
But while McGeechan says we are in for a ‘mouthwatering tournament’, with every team fancying their chances, he says he cannot look beyond the French.
The reason, McGeechan says, is because of the influence defence guru Edwards is having on Les Bleus following his move across the Channel from an 11-year stint with Wales.
Looking ahead to what’s in store, McGeechan wrote in a Telegraph column: “What a mouthwatering tournament it promises to be. England are moving in the right direction again, Scotland’s two professional clubs are going well, providing the national team with their best squad in 20 years, Wales are the defending champions, and Ireland are coming off a brilliant autumn.
“I cannot look past France, though. It has been over a decade since they last won the Six Nations, in 2010. But with a home World Cup coming into view, an incredible squad of players, and now the right coaching chemistry, they are building something to go with their natural flair.”
McGeechan watched in awe as France beat New Zealand 40-25 during the autumn in what he dubs ‘the breakthrough’ moment after 18 months of work Edwards and the other coaches have done behind the scenes.
France threw away a huge lead in that match to suddenly fall behind, but came strong again and blew the Blacks away in the end.
“Previous France teams might have crumbled, but this time they kept their heads, stayed in the game, regrouped and regathered. Psychologically, for a young group of players, that was very important,” says McGeechan.
“You could feel the hand of Shaun Edwards in that recovery. It is impossible to overstate what an impact he has had on France.
“Shaun is just what France needed, and team manager Raphael Ibanez knew it. He is one of the most intelligent coaches you will meet but it is his emotional intelligence as much as his tactical intelligence that is so important. That and his character.
“When you watch Galthie speak about him there is always a little smile on his face. Shaun has this infectious enthusiasm which rubs off on everyone.
“When we worked together at Wasps, if we had had a particularly good game in attack, Shaun would demand an extra 15 minutes of defensive drills on the following Tuesday. He wanted to emphasise to the players that their freedom to attack came about because of their defensive control, what they did without the ball.
“Shaun and I have always kept in touch, and he is clearly enjoying himself. He invests fully in what he is doing and stays the course. He spent seven-plus years at Wasps, then a decade or more at Wales. Now he is turning a talented group of natural ball handlers into a brilliantly organised, defensively disciplined group of natural ball handlers.
“France used to have a tendency to over commit to rucks. Shaun had to deal with that early on. He has got a perfect defensive captain at 13 in Gael Fickou. He loves to have that defensive control from 13. It was Jonathan Davies at Wales.”
McGeechan continued: “It is not totally Shaun, of course. You cannot underestimate Galthie. Nor do I underestimate what Ibanez contributes to this squad. He is perfect for Shaun as his English is so good. I am sure he is translating much of what Shaun is trying to get across.
“When you get the chemistry right, that is when the magic happens – and that is what is happening with France.”
France begin with a home game against Italy and also meet Ireland and England n Paris, with away dates to Wales and Scotland.
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