AS SOMEONE who has experienced Shaun Edwards’ “harsh” style first-hand, former England lock Tom Palmer wonders whether some of France’s more delicate players will cope under the glare of their new defensive coach.
Tomorrow’s Six Nations game in Paris sees Les Bleus in action for the first time since Edwards - the rugby league legend who has since carved out a reputation as one of union’s finest coaches - came on board.
After years of marshalling Wales’ defence to Grand Slams and also working for the British Lions, the 53-year-old is seen as someone who could finally return France to greatness after so many miserable campaigns.
The fact that England - yet again - failed to get the highly-respected Wiganer into their own set-up is something that still baffles many onlookers.
Palmer, the ex-Leeds Tykes forward who won 42 caps and is now forwards coach at French club Rouen, knows him well.
Edwards was his head coach at Wasps from 2006 to 2009, with Heineken Cup and Premiership titles coming their way, before Palmer, ironically, moved to Paris himself to join Stade Francais.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “It’s going to be interesting to see how he’ll get his message across with the translation but also how the French guys will take to his style.
“If he’s really harsh on them and being very strict and pushes them hard, whether they’ll be used to that or appreciate that, we’ll have to wait and see.
“I’m sure he’ll be successful - he’s a great coach - but it might just take a while for them to get used to his style. Some of the French guys take criticism quite personally and Shaun can be quite sharp-tongued so I do wonder how they’ll take to that style.
“I wonder if he’ll let Rapha (Ibanez) talk to them about culture and maybe he’ll advise him on the best way to get the best out of them as players.”
Former France hooker and captain Ibanez, 46, played under Edwards at Wasps at the same time as Palmer.
He is now France’s manager following the World Cup, with legendary scrum-half Fabien Galthie in as head coach.
Palmer, 40, said: “I remember at Wasps, if a plan was in place and you didn’t do your job, Shaun could come down on you like a tonne of bricks in the video sessions afterwards.
“It didn’t matter who it was or who was there. But I got on well with Shaun. If you did what was asked of you he was fine.
“He changed our style of defence but for us forwards it was much easier; it was more the outside backs who really had to get their decision-making right.
“If they didn’t get the hang of it quickly, he didn’t have much patience. There was one time when I did get pulled out in a video review. I kept committing to dead rucks and he kept showing example after example of it saying ‘you did it there, there, and you did it there.’ I didn’t do it afterwards.”
Although there are plenty of familiar faces in Eddie Jones’ England as they look to build on those performances that saw them reach the 2019 World Cup final, France are a different entity.
Palmer - who also finished off his playing career at Bordeaux Begles under Ibanez - said: “They’ve gone for a very young, inexperienced team which - for a Six Nations opener - is quite a big call.
“They’ve brought in a brand new tight-head and full-back, some uncapped players on the bench and have an average of just 10 or 15 caps throughout the whole squad.
“But they definitely have some exciting players. It will be interesting to see how they go if it does get close; England have so much experience in there with World Cup finalists, Grand Slam winners, European finals and leaders like Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs. I think they’ll be calmer and have more of a plan on how to win if it’s tight going into the last five minutes. My predicting is never great but my gut instinct would say England should do it.”
Coaching at Rouen in Normandy, Palmer, who played almost 200 games for Leeds after attending university in the city, is well-placed to gauge the mood of the French public.
The last time they won the Six Nations was the Grand Slam year of 2010 when he was playing for Stade Francais.
He said: “France’s Under 20s won the World Cup the last two years and some players have come through from there so there is a sense of optimism now.
“But also, given how poor they have been the last five years or so, there is a bit of uncertainty from the public as well who think it could so easily go the other way as well in this Six Nations.
“These players have still yet to prove themselves at international level but once that comes I think there will be more confidence.”
Although Palmer suffered a painful World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of France in Paris in 2011, it was a game against them the previous year that proved “absolutely pivotal” to his own international career.
He recalled: “Back in 2010, I hadn’t been in that Six Nations squad at all. I’d moved to Paris and was out of sight, out of mind.
“But in the last week there was an injury and I was brought in on the bench in Paris. And then in the game itself, Simon Shaw got injured and went off after about 15 minutes so I actually played 65 minutes of that game.
“I had a good match and suddenly was back in the minds of the coaches.
“From there, I was picked for the summer tour of Australia, started both those Tests and then played in all the autumn games plus the Six Nations and World Cup the following year.
“So that game in 2010 was an absolutely pivotal game for my England career really; I got opportunities which I took.”