I'm a true Bleu, says Trinh-Duc

Have France finally found their on-field leader? James Corrigan on the man who could make the difference between good and great
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The Independent Online

What's this: a Frenchman threatening to make the No 10 jersey his own? Does François Trinh-Duc have no shame? Doesn't he realise his country goes through fly-halves faster than Eric Cantona went through sardines?

The 23-year-old has started seven of the last eight Tests, which considering France had used eight other No 10s in the previous three years, makes him something of an immovable fixture. He is not of course, but tomorrow at Murrayfield, Trinh-Duc does line up once again. It is fair to say this Championship will either see him nail down the pivotal role – or see the coach, Marc Lièvremont, revert to brutal Gallic type.

"What is it about the French?" asked Jonathan Davies in the week. "It's always been their No 9 who has controlled the game. A [Pierre] Berbizier or, going a long way back, a [Jacques] Fouroux. To them the No 10 has always been like a silent partner."

The Welshman is entitled to wonder, and not just because he exerted the sort of peerless control from No 10 that certain statesmen could only dream about. This Napoleonic obsession – in which the little man always has to be general – has made them the odd one out in world rugby. And although the French are wonderfully different when it comes to the oval ball, Davies is of the opinion that the fact the silent partner is always the expendable partner has plainly worked against them.

"It has been a big problem for the French, that lack of control at 10," said the BBC summariser. "Trinh-Duc played well in New Zealand in the summer and they should carry on going with him. He is a very, very talented player and can give them continuity. You know, Lièvremont and before him [Bernard] Laporte have been chopping and changing for years now. But maybe it's time to go with the man who could take them through the next couple of Six Nations and into the World Cup."

Lièvremont seems to be in agreement. Trinh-Duc has been carrying a shoulder injury this week, but the coach is so keen for him to play he will give him as long as it takes to prove his fitness. Trinh-Duc needs the game time. In French "Jacques of all trades" tradition, the boy of Vietnamese descent began as a scrum-half and only moved outside when he became too big. Even now Montpellier switch him around the backline. As he told Le Figaro this week, it has all meant a steep learning curve.

"During my first year with France, I was intimidated," he said, reflecting on his international debut two years ago, which, interestingly enough, came in Edinburgh. "The coaches asked me to be myself as a leader. But when I was with big names like [Yannick] Jauzion, [Damien] Traille or [Cédric] Heymans, it's hard to order them around and shout 'move up'. Today I know better."

Trinh-Duc might be feeling more comfortable in the role the French call "chef d'orchestre", but not every critic is convinced. There can be no doubts about his flair – the 27-22 victory over New Zealand in June is proof aplenty – but his tactical kicking and game management remain under suspicion. His hometown club are not among the Top 14 elite and his big-match experience is thus also queried. Trinh-Duc recognises all these questions. "It's a responsible position that requires a broad range of skills," he said. "Passing, kicking, defence, vision of the game. I'm only 23 and I learn every day." It helps that he has a coach who is prepared to afford him time. "It is true Mark supports me, especially when I am criticised," he said. "He trusts me because he knows I still have room for improvement. It allows me to work in a calmer atmosphere."

Yet lose to the Scots this weekend and the atmosphere will be anything but calm. The French media adore statistics and it is widely known that since 1997 Les Bleus have always won the Championship immediately following a Lions tour. With home ties against England and Ireland, there can and will be no excuses. Failure will result in the obligatory guillotine. No prizes for guessing whose head would hit the bucket first. "We must succeed to impose our game," said Trinh-Duc. "Individually, I have to show I am progressing and that I can be the No 10 for France in 2011."

Spotlight on France

*Key men

Morgan Parra and François Trinh-Duc, talented half-backs with a heavy responsibility.

*One to watch

Mathieu Bastareaud, the problem centre with a career to rebuild.

*Can they win it?

Yes, with some luck on the injury front and consistency of selection.

Dates for the diary : Full fixtures and TV times for the Six Nations


Ireland v Italy (2.30pm, BBC1)

England v Wales (5pm, BBC1)


Scotland v France (3pm, BBC1)

*Saturday 13 February

Wales v Scotland (2pm, BBC1)

France v Ireland (4.30pm, BBC1)

*Sunday 14 February

Italy v England (1.30pm, BBC1)

*Friday 26 February

Wales v France (8pm, BBC1)

*Saturday 27 February

England v Ireland (4pm, BBC1)

Italy v Scotland (1.30pm, BBC1)

*Saturday 13 March

Ireland v Wales (2.30pm, BBC1)

Scotland v England (5pm, BBC1)

*Sunday 14 March

France v Italy (2.30pm, BBC1)

*Saturday 20 March

Wales v Italy (2.30pm, BBC1)

Ireland v Scotland (5pm, BBC1)

France v England (7.45pm, BBC1)