Rugby World Cup: France - masters of rugby in small patches

France players
France defeated Argentina, Tonga and the United States in the pool stages
2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final: Wales v France
Venue: Oita Stadium, Oita Prefecture Date: Sunday, 20 October Kick-off: 08:15 BST
Coverage: Full commentary on every Wales game across BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.

Let's get the cliche out of the way.

Ca depend quelle equipe de France decide de jouer aujourd'hui.

We don't need to translate it* - it is the one that always applies to France.

And in 2019, never has it been more appropriate. France have been at their mercurial, maddening and frustrating best.

Wonderful in the first half of their opening Six Nations game against Wales in Paris, only to blow a 16-0 lead by imploding in the second half.

At the World Cup, 20-3 up against Argentina at half time, only to cling on for a 23-21 win. Then the same scoreline against Tonga, despite being 17-0 up, in a match that secured their place in the quarter finals.

France have become masters at playing great rugby in very small patches.

Nicolas Dupin de Beyssat, rugby commentator for Canal Plus sums it up: "This is the new sport. The new French rugby," he says. "We play just one half."

David Opoczynski from Le Parisien agrees. He thinks it's down to mental demons rather than fitness or physical reasons.

France centre Sofiane Guitoune is even more blunt, telling the media in Oita that the players have "acted like idiots and started to panic for no reason" in the past.

Physically France have certainly improved.

Their new fitness coach Thibault Giroud, a former Olympic Bobsleigher who spent two and a half years in Bridgend with the Celtic Crusaders Rugby League side, has started to change a rugby culture where peak physical fitness has not always been a top priority.

Nicolas has seen improvements since the side has been in Japan:

"At least during the World Cup we have started to win games," he says.

"But it is very hard to keep that confidence going when you have not played for two weeks."

There is a general consensus that France could have done with their final pool match against England, which was cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis.

Hagibis was quite obviously out of French control, but it would not be France at a World Cup without an internal storm of their own making.

There are reports that senior players rebelled after head coach Jacques Brunel tried to remove hooker Guilhem Guirado as captain. It is still not clear whether he or Camille Chat will start against Wales.

Louis Picamoles
Forward Louis Picamoles is appearing in his third Rugby World Cup

As Nicolas Dupin de Beyssat puts it: "The leaders Guirado, Louis Picamoles, Maxime Medard are driving the bus now. They decide for the group. The coaches are just giving technical advice."

Picamoles certainly cut an imposing figure at Tuesday's news conference. The former Northampton number eight exuded an aura of leadership in handling questions. He looked like he belonged.

It is tempting to draw parallels between now and the unrest behind the scenes in 2011, which France defied to reach the final, beating Wales in the semis.

Events then almost beggared belief.

I remember looking on open-mouthed as senior players got up and left the news conference table in Auckland when the then-coach Marc Lievremont entered the room.

It does not appear to be that bad in 2019, although there is one other crucial difference which could count against France this time round.

"Back in 2011 there were a lot of very experienced players", Arnaud David of the Sud Ouest newspaper tells me.

That was the French team of Thierry Dusautoir, Vincent Clerc, Imanol Harinordoquy, Dimitri Yachvili and Morgan Parra.

But David also finds ground for optimism: "The divide in 2011 was much worse," he says.

"And France are drawing confidence from the narrow scores between the two sides in recent matches."

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Wales Backs Coach Stephen Jones on the French defeat in 2011 as fuel for Wales

It is a point not lost on Picamoles, who says "We have not beaten them (Wales) often, but we have never been far off either."

Since that 2011 semi-final in Auckland all-bar-one of the eight matches has been decided by 10 points or fewer. Wales though have won seven of those eight.

And then there is always the suspicion that France have a big game in them at big tournaments: New Zealand in 1999 and again in 2007; Wales in 2011.

So you never know, despite Wales being second and France eighth in the world rankings.

And just so nothing is lost in translation...

*It depends on which France turns up on the day.

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