France's odd couple plot All Blacks' downfall
AUCKLAND, 21 Oct. - Joël Jutge and David Ellis seem like an odd couple in France's preparations for Sunday's Rugby World Cup Final against the All Blacks.
Jutge is a much-heralded former Test referee who is an advisor to coach Marc Lièvremont. Ellis is an Englishman who is the French defence coach and is keen on one day being part of England's national team.
Together they have been poring over videotapes, looking for nuggets that may help lead France to a shock victory at Eden Park.
One particular point of interest has been how South African referee Craig Joubert calls the match, knowing his interpretation could have a significant impact on the outcome.
"He is someone who is very fair and rigorous, especially in the breakdown,'' said Jutge, who retired in 2009 after calling 44 tests.
As part of the lead-up to the final, each team is allowed to meet Joubert, and Jutge flew the French flag on Thursday.
"It was interesting in that the first exchanges for us involved what he found irritating in the French matches,'' said Jutge, "the things that could have escaped us and the things he remarked on.
"He knows us well. I can assure you he made no comments on any specific area."
With the meet and greet session behind him, Jutge went back to work, Ellis at his side.
Ellis looks for defensive errors, while Jutge looks at how penalties can be avoided.
"Joel and I often work in parity,'' said Ellis, who has been part of Les Bleus coaching staff since 2000.
"We watch the videos. Joel looks at the smaller details which are really important. In my videos, I am focusing on errors.
"What the referee is doing, Joel can say as a referee. I would say this or I would do this and I think that changes the players' behaviour."
One area they have focused on is the scrum. The French have tremendous respect for the All Blacks' scrum, and feel their inability to react to the quickness of the Kiwis played a key role in losing in their pool clash 37-17 last month.
"It is a strong scrum and I think they are very much ahead of the pack in that sense,'' said France prop Nicolas Mas. "They put a lot of time and effort into that. All the players are used to this.
"They are used to coming in strong and coming in fast. The difficulty in playing against them is meeting their speed. They do not give you much time to move them. They free the ball up very quickly so they have a strong scrum.
"We need to be able to meet them in the scrum if we are going to be able to play. We have the whole match to do this."
As a former referee, Jutge understands that players bend the rules.
"The All Blacks know the rules perfectly and they know exactly how far they can push things, and that is something we will need to get a handle on," he said.
"We have to get there faster, with the larger group of people, and as long as you know that you have a greater chance of getting into a favourable position. So it is a question of speed."
Jutge and Ellis have spent more time than they care to admit watching videotapes of scrums between the All Blacks and Australia in the semi-final.
"We tried to decode what could be seen and what could be done and sometimes we were in disagreement,'' said Jutge.
"With three or four scrums, I have been in agreement with the referee but this issue of reactivity that Nicolas mentioned, remains a huge issue. We have to keep this in mind and deal with it immediately."
That said, they went back to work watching videos.
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