Ollie Phillips: Often a scapegoat, sometimes a hero: England must nullify Mathieu Bastareaud

Ollie Phillips
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Bastareaud was France's main threat against Italy and will pose a threat against England (Source: Getty)

France were very ordinary against Italy during their last Six Nations fixture but the gem at the end was maverick centre Mathieu Bastareaud, fresh from the Test wilderness, who was destructive whenever he was on the ball.

I was a teammate of Toulon powerhouse Bastareaud when we were both at Stade Francais and, unfortunately, he is one of the game’s wasted talents. If he found any sort of self-discipline or focused on becoming the supreme athlete he could and should be, we’d be talking about one of the best centres on the planet, without question.

The reality, though, is he’s probably two stone overweight and he is only really interested when it serves his own agenda. The result of that is we do see some absolutely mesmeric, world class performances when he has a point to prove.

But when there is an expectancy of delivery, he very rarely produces and the principal reasons for that are: he is not fit enough to hit those heights consistently and his mind wanders too much.

I believe we will see an explosive start from the 29-year-old against England at the Stade de France on Saturday, where he will be dangerous and pose a lot of problems for the first half or 50 minutes, but thereafter get knackered, implode and start making mistakes.

That said, when he is at his peak in the game, England will have to be very wary of him. He can be devastatingly effective when he wants to be and that raw ability will be problematic ­– he always was either the hero scapegoat.

Another thing I learned when I lived across the‚ÄąChannel was how much it means for the French to beat England; getting one over on Les Rosbifs is the absolute be all and end all to them, the pinnacle.

France could lose every other match in the Six Nations and as long as they dispatched England, it wouldn’t all be forgotten, but there would be a lot of salvation and forgiveness.

England know, however, what they are walking into. The Stade de France is always a difficult venue but Eddie Jones’s side have the capability and, ultimately, they are playing an opponent which just isn’t the force that it used to be.

England, meanwhile, are a team that harbours an ambition to win the World Cup in 18 months and this is the type of game they have to win and win well. It’s non-negotiable.

I envisage England turning up in Paris with an intensity which they have not yet shown in this year’s Six Nations so far; they are wounded from their 25-13 defeat to Scotland and they may potentially need a bonus-point victory.

It boils down to whether that intensity can be translated into effectiveness and accuracy in key areas, particularly at the breakdown. If it does, then the whole encounter becomes a non-starter as France simply won’t be able to cope.

This is an acid test for England and if they win with a bonus point, which would ensure the championship is taken to the final weekend irrespective of Ireland’s result against Scotland, I would back them to then go and beat Joe Schmidt’s side.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.

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