Hindsight is a wonderful thing in sport and we must always bear in mind that being able to go back over tapes and figure out how things might have gone, if something had been done differently, is a luxury the players exposed in the moment simply don’t have.
As a Coach you have to trust that your players have the skills and abilities to function under the most extreme of pressures, there are no rewinds, no do-overs. Essentially once the whistle blows you just have to accept their decisions on the pitch.
It’s a difficult skill to master and it’s why so many coaches seem so emotional when players make mistakes. Simply put, frustration is a difficult emotion to hide.
After the weekend's Internationals a few coaches will be left feeling frustrated with their team's performance but I doubt few will be left thinking “what if?” more than Guy Noves who’s France, whilst playing very well, made a series of errors that essentially scuppered any hopes of beating the All Blacks.
In fairness it’s a young and inexperienced side, and before we undertake any analysis it's important to understand that the French backline alone had a mere 105 caps – 89 of which were between two veteran players in Mathieu Bastareaud and Yoann Huget leaving just 16 caps between the other 5 players:
Dupont – 4
Belleau – 1
Yoann Huget – 49
Doumayrou – 2
Bastareaud – 40
Thomas – 6
Ducuing – 3
So understandably mistakes will happen and poor decisions will be made.
We got a good example of that around the 80-minute mark when, with New Zealand under the pump, they made a series of mistakes that handed everything they’d worked so hard for (territory, possession and momentum) back to New Zealand, who gratefully accepted the gift and never really looked back.
Mistakes happen and you can only learn from them, so in the video sessions this week they’ll certainly be looking at this moment in the game as a key turning point.
Areas they’ll identify will certainly be the missed 3vs2 at the end when Mathieu Bastareaud takes contact, but also the lack of communication when the potential 5vs3 presented itself.
Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly two players will jump out in the attack focused analysis, Dupont and Bastareaud.
Dupont will get focused on because the tempo and flow of the French game has always been driven by the scrum-half he is the captain of the ship, but it’s unfair to criticise Dupont too much for these missed chances.
Bar a few mistakes, such as this, he had a quite magnificent game. However the organisation around him is less than ideal and we can see throughout the sequence he takes the most simplest of options. there is nothing wrong with that, a young 9 with only 4 caps to his name needs help, of which it seemed sorely lacking.
Likewise, it’s easy to fixate on Bastereaud’s mistake in turning down the outside pass, especially as one of the more experienced players in the backline and the fact it's about as close to a sitter as you'll get.
But, again, there can be a number of reasons he took that decision, one might just be poor decision making and his desire to be confrontational. The other might be his lack of experience playing with those players outside him, meaning he wasn’t confident in giving the pass to someone he isn’t quite sure of yet and as such that influenced his decision to go on his own against two of the quickest players on the park..
Perhaps and perhaps not, only they will truly know. The point merely is that confidence lends itself to cohesion.
Lack of confidence in those around you will impact on your and their decision making and this is why an inexperienced team like France or a team like the Barbarians (as wonderful as they are) will often struggle at key moments in games.
A long time ago when I was still playing, my team captain collared me after a game and asked me why I hadn’t made a certain pass. Awkwardly I admitted I’d not been confident that the receiver would catch it so had opted for contact.
He explained to me that as long as I take the right option and someone else lets us down that’s as much as a player can do. He was right and it stuck with me.
I imagine Noves will be using wording of a similar vein this week.