IRB Rugby World Cup
Why Francois Trinh-Duc's World Cup squad omission is no surprise
Martin Gillingham
August 24, 2015
Francois Trinh-Duc gestures during England's Test against France
Francois Trinh-Duc gestures during England's Test against France© Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Three summers ago, Philippe Saint-Andre embarked on his first June tour as the France boss. His first Six Nations after replacing the hapless - yet stolen drop goal short of being a World Cup-winning coach - Marc Lievremont had not gone smoothly.

Wins against Italy and Scotland were followed by a draw with Ireland, clawing back from a half-time deficit to share the spoils. His fly-half for all three matches had been Francois Trinh-Duc. And he, along with half-back partner Morgan Parra, carried the can. Saint-Andre dropped them both immediately and things steadily deteriorated. The following weekend, France were beaten at home by England and then, in the final match, on the road in Wales.

Trinh-Duc had gone into 2012 with his stock higher than ever before. The previous June he steered Montpellier to within minutes of claiming the Top 14 title and had been the player of the season. It appeared to have confirmed his reputation as the most naturally-gifted fly-half in France. Yet there was already a sense that, through the cautious eyes of Saint-Andre, greater emphasis was being placed on his perceived weaknesses.

Now I don't purport to be the same astute critic of the finer points of fly-half play as those who have worn the No.10 jersey and now ply their trade either writing or talking about it, but what I have become is a seasoned watcher of the France coach. It was clear three years ago that he places little or no trust in the powers of Trinh-Duc.

Even so, Trinh-Duc was picked to go on tour to Argentina in June 2012 and was selected, along with Parra, to start the first Test in Cordoba against a Pumas team of players largely out of contention of making Santiago Phelan's squad for the inaugural Rugby Championship. Les Bleus were expected to win and win well.

They lost 23-20.

France descended into mini-meltdown. This was reflected in the team Saint-Andre named for the second Test in Tucuman. Six alterations included the replacement of both Parra and Trinh-Duc. It came as no surprise.

Tucuman marked the return of French Rugby's prodigal son. Two years on from his last international appearance Frederic Michalak was also now Out of Africa ... for good. Having quit the Top 14 once before for a career in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup with the Sharks, he'd just brought to a close his second stint in Durban. Toulon, who Saint-Andre had left to take up the France job, had announced Michalak was joining them on a two-year deal.

The great enigma was not only back in France, but for them too. Just seven days on from the embarrassment of defeat by Phelan's second string, Les Bleus bounced back with a thumping six-try 49-10 win. Michalak was the star turn racking up 19 points in a flawless display.

Saint-Andre's faith in the man characterised on our side of La Manche as an occasionally gifted but all-too-often flaky player was reinforced in the Autumn that year when France won all three of their home Tests.

They were performances which also sealed Trinh-Duc's fate as, at best, a peripheral squad member for the rest of Saint-Andre's tenure. That was reinforced this week with the frank admission from within the France camp that Trinh-Duc had never been regarded as the first choice No.10. In fact, the squad selection suggests he was probably never in the top two.

Trinh-Duc - a surprise omission? I think not.

© Martin Gillingham

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