Watch out for France, says Ryan



Former Fiji 7s Coach Ben Ryan has been working with the French Rugby Federation for the past 18 months, and his influence on their 7s game can already be seen; this season they reached the finals in Vancouver and Hong Kong, and defeated New Zealand for the first time.

Paris will host the 2024 Olympics, so France get automatic entry. This has led the French Federation to look at their 7s programme a little bit more seriously, and hiring Ryan as a consultant is part of that investment.

Teivovo Rugby caught up with Ryan at the London 7s. “I work for France right across their Federation,” he told us. “I’m mentoring the 7s teams, and doing only a tiny bit of hands-on coaching. It’s really about planning, building their programme, getting better quality players, and nurturing the relationships with the clubs.”

“We’re also setting up a 7s league in France for the Top 14 and ProD2 to have their own competition. There’s no 7s in the schools, and only a handful of actual tournaments outside the HSBC World Series, so it’s important we do something.”

“Even with England, there’s lots of 7s played at schoolboy level and invitational and social –even during the London 7s at Twickenham there was a schoolboy final out on the field – but there’s none of that in France. It’s not in the culture.”

“So this is a longer project. The 2024 Olympics will be in Paris, and as hosts France get automatic entry so they know they’re going to be there; and the World Cup 7s is the year before – those are the longer term goals that I’m working around.”

The Olympic winning coach complemented France 7s head coach Jerome Daret for his dedication to and passion for 7s. “Jerome really understands things. He’s a top coach, and the same for the women – they’re getting some good results because they’re adding some consistency to what they’re doing.”

“They’re picking their fitness up, and now we’ve seen for the first-time ever, men and women French sides are beating New Zealand. That’s never happened before. And they have done it in consecutive tournaments and could easily have reached another final last week – they’d never been in two finals before this season, and they’re in Paris this week, so who knows what will happen.”

Ryan explained that his contract with the French Federation is 40-50 days a year and they move him around as they need. “After this weekend, I’m in a training camp with the France 7s team in La Rochelle, then another one in Toulouse; but I’ve never been with them at a tournament on the side of the field coaching, except in pre-season.”

“I think it’s a bit like it was with Fiji… it’s just a case of making small changes. With the France 7s team, there were a lot of small changes, mentoring the coach and spending time with them, setting some standards. Ultimately, they are executing all of the ideas that I’ve talked to them about. It’s not me, I’m just guiding them a little bit.”

Just as Fiji 7s coach Gareth Baber noted that the France team play a similar style to Fiji, Ryan draws the same conclusion. “I think France are playing a lovely brand of 7s rugby. If you look at the way they want to play – they have been influenced by Fijian rugby; they love Fiji rugby and Jerome Daret played with Fijians when he was at Dax.”

“The players also see that this Fijian style is bringing them success. Behind Fiji this season, the second-best team for offloads is France. You can see that there’s a style of play that they are trying to play that’s more akin to Fiji, and they can hold onto the ball for long periods of play.”

“But like we saw in the Fiji-France game at Twickenham, Fiji only need 15% of the ball and that’s enough. Their game-breaking and their offloading against France, well, they really did change the momentum brilliantly.”

The HSBC 7s Series has become more competitive in recent seasons, and Ryan believes that trend will increase further. “I think it’s good for the game to have a strong French team, just like it is to have strong USA, Samoa and Ireland teams.”

“Ireland look brilliant, don’t they? The one caveat I would put on Ireland is they don’t have a big player pool. They pop into the odd tournament without injuries, but when you have 10 tournaments in a row you can see what can happen to even the top teams. That will affect them, and I’m sure they are aware of that.”

“As for Fiji, I think they’re just fantastic,” Ryan smiled. “They’ve got a lovely blend and are playing some great rugby 7s. At every tournament, you’ve got to mark them out as favourites.”

By Jeremy Duxbury

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