How France playmaker Lopez is a master of invention

The French fly-half combines pinpoint kicking with acute field awareness and a knack for producing the unexpected.

TOKYO, 3 Oct - When playing fly-half, one of the skills you need is awareness. It is your responsibility to get the backline moving. You do that in two ways: pre-planned moves and unscripted invention.

Fly-halves need to balance those two elements. If they move completely away from the pre-planned moves, you end up with 15 people running around with little idea what each person is doing. If they stick solemnly to the planned moves, you miss opportunities to score when the defence do something unexpected.

Camille Lopez, above, showed amazing invention during France's victory over the USA. His three kicks came when the USA presented an opportunity for a kick to work.

The first try came after a break by France. The break had forced the USA to put all their players into the defensive line. That had removed the cover for the kick. If Lopez could loft a chip into the USA back field he would have Yoann Huget and Gael Fickou running on to it and the American defenders trying to match them.

Of course, the attackers would be going from a moving start and the defenders would have to turn around and go from a standing start. Lopez spots the opportunity, communicates it to Huget and Fickou to ensure they start sprinting, and places the chip perfectly. It is almost certain this plan was devised as the ball was in the breakdown, and known only to Huget, Fickou and Lopez.

When you have a penalty, you can afford to take more risks with your attack. You know you will get the ball back if the play you attempt does not work. Teams frequently attempt kicks in this situation. Kicks are usually high risk but high reward, but that equation is much better when you remove the risk.

You can see that Lopez is communicating with Alivereti Raka on the wing. Both are aware that France have the penalty. Again, it is almost certain the only people who know what will happen are Lopez, Raka and Sofiane Guitoune, the other French player on that side of the pitch. The kick is perfect but it is helped by coming as a surprise to the USA defenders. It is a surprise to the defence because it is a surprise to the other 12 attackers.

This shows Lopez’s decision-making process. Look how he calls a pre-planned move first. It will probably involve Yacouba Camara running off Lopez's shoulder and Guitoune providing an option out the back. Camara and Guitoune run that move, but you can see that Lopez has also identified Raka stood way out on the wing. Marcel Brache has crept into the midfield and that leaves a narrow strip on which Lopez can put the ball, where only Raka can reach it. It is the third try France scored from a kick and all were conjured on the spot by Lopez.

RNS sl/co