Peter Bills: France Top 14 was bog-standard

The evening sun softened into an exquisite light, the temperature was balmy. Ground conditions were perfect.

Even so, on the evidence of the first weekend of the new French Top 14 season, the style of rugby perfected in particular by the All Blacks in this season's southern hemisphere Tri-Nations competition has yet to reach the shores of Europe.



Much of what we saw last weekend in France, even from some of the best sides, was pretty bog-standard stuff. Aerial ping-pong, that plague of the modern game, was still in evidence and that old French bête noire of recent years, finding an opponent to crunch into rather than seeking space and then off-loading in the tackle, still pre-dominated.



Of course, all this was light years away from the attack based, running style of play, with which New Zealand have dominated the Tri-Nations. But it seems that in Europe, even with little more than a year left before the next World Cup, old habits are going to die hard. If they die at all.....



When you see players from a team such as Stade Toulouse, with the talent in its back line plus the agility and pace of its forwards, continuing to hoist aimless downfield punts from ball received in their own 22 isolated in yards of space, you realise that much has yet to change in the northern hemisphere.



The new approach that has been hallmarked by the All Blacks is, intrinsically, a philosophy. It is possible only if everyone buys into it and wants to explore another side to this game. You can't be half pregnant and you can't be half interested in this approach. You either play it properly, full-on, or you stick with a more orthodox game.



It was discouraging to see Toulouse, even though they scored six tries, kicking away so much quality possession. Sure, they scored their tries in part because Agen are newly promoted back to the Top 14 and lacked the physicality and defensive structure to contain their opponents' occasional moments of invention.



Interestingly, players like wing Cedric Heymans and outside half David Skrela did seek space rather than contact. But Yannick Jauzion of all people seems relentlessly programmed to bash the ball up into the traffic. Surely a player of his talents can do more than that. Likewise full-back Clement Poitrenaud who, far too often, caught an Agen downfield kick and just booted it skywards himself in the opposite direction.



Not everyone will adapt to this potentially new game with the alacrity, not to say cunning, of New Zealand. But of all the countries, you have to believe France could do so. They have the birthright, pace, tradition and, much of the year, the ground conditions.



Much of this is a complete mystery, a bizarre concoction. Toulon, for example, spend a fortune recruiting wings like England's Paul Sackey and Rudi Wolf, the New Zealander from the Auckland Blues, and then line up ten kicks at goal in their home match against Bayonne. Equally bizarrely, Bayone won, 26-22 to provide the biggest upset on the opening day.



Finally, to the weekend's weirdest syndrome of all. 2009 Champions Perpignan, a team stuffed full of back line attacking runners, beat Clermont Auvergne, 21-13 thanks to five penalty goals and two drop goals. Clermont scored the only try of the game yet they made some telling breaks and runs, not least on the counter-attack.



No great surprise, perhaps, given that Clermont, the reigning champions, are coached by a New Zealander, Vern Cotter, and have just signed former Waikato Chiefs back row forward Sione Lauaki.



Now Lauaki was some way short of full fitness and still well below his best. But he made a couple of absolutely barn-storming runs, and one off-load in a 3-man tackle was simply audacious. It offered striking evidence that he at least understands where this game is going, or rather should be.



But perhaps above all, last weekend reminded us how deeply ingrained into the players' systems of recent times this aimless kicking and the pursuit of penalty goals have become.

News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May