King predicts Saracens machine will nullify French World Cup threats

Alex King, the Montpellier backs coach, believes an England team based around the Saracens “machine” will nullify World Cup pool arch-rivals France despite the attacking firepower on show in Saturday’s Top 14 final between Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne in Paris.
Both teams carry potent attacking options for French coach Jacques Brunel who has yet to decide on his first choice No10 for the tournament in Japan with the Top 14 final offering Clermont’s Camille Lopez and Antoine Dupont, of Toulouse, the opportunity to put themselves forward as the answer to this lengthy debate. France and England are joined by Argentina, Tonga and USA in one of the toughest World Cup pools with just two teams qualifying for the knock-out stages
King has spent the season working out strategies to deal with the best attacking talent in France headed by Clermont wings Damian Penaud and Alivereti Raka along with Lopez and centre Wesley Fofana with Toulouse playing an exciting brand of attacking rugby initiated by Dupont and bringing the best out of a back line including Romain Ntamack, Maxime Medard, Thomas Ramos and Yoann Huget. The only consolation for England fans is that Cheslin Kolbe, the brilliant Toulouse wing, is South African.
King expects Clermont and Toulouse to provide the majority of back line options although he would add Gael Fikou (Stade Francais ) to link up with Fofana in mid-field with Racing’s Teddy Thomas a wing option, No10 Anthony Belleau (Toulon) is in the mix while Morgan Parra (Clermont) and Maxime Machenaud (Racing) are in the complicated half back debate.
King, the former England, Wasps, Northampton and Clermont No10, is waiting to discover what incoming Montpellier head coach Xavier Garbajosa plans to do with the coaching set up and like Bordeaux defence coach Joe Worsley, his ex-Wasps team mate, enjoys the challenge of Top 14 rugby.
The 44-year-old was the Wales attack coach in the 2017 Six Nations campaign and said: “England will be favourites to qualify from the Pool because they have great strength in depth and can muscle up when they want to and also move to a wider game. They are also going to be based around the Saracens machine and that mind set will pay real dividends with Exeter also showing the right mentality. The Premiership is really strong at the moment.
“Toulouse have been fantastic this season and try to give the ball as often as possible to Kolbe who is one of the quickest players in the Top14. The two teams in the final will make up the basis of the French back line at the World Cup with Parra, Fofana, Penaud, Raka plus Lopez for Clermont with Toulouse featuring Ramos, Ntamack, Dupont, Huget and Medard. If you then add in a few more players from other clubs then it is a formidable line up of talent.
“ The No10 role for France is such a tough one and he always seems to get dropped when they lose. It is a reality of rugby life over here and you just hope that Brunel gives someone a run in the position to build partnerships. If you keep on reacting to losses like that you will never get growth.
“ For France to be a real threat to England they have to get their selection and coaching right because as we have seen from Toulouse, they excel off turn over ball, playing unstructured rugby. In the final, the kicking game will be key because you cannot just hand back ball to guys like Ramos, Kolbe, Penaud and Raka. France are fortunate to have so many good players in-form heading into a World Cup. Against England in the Six Nations they picked the wrong No15 and got found out and there are question marks over Raka and Penaud defending kicks – they can be susceptible.”
King confirmed that here is “no sharing of tactical ideas” between the Top 14 club coaches and the French international set up under Brunel which creates uncertainty over selection and tactics. Besides England facing threats from French players in the Top 14, King also pin-pointed key players from Argentina who have impressed this season in Europe and can be added to the Pumas squad for the Cup. “ Nicolas Sanchez has had really good season at No10 for Stade: “added King.” Juan Imhoff from Racing is very dangerous and always scores tries while Facundo Isa has done well at Toulon. You also have Bordeaux bound Santiago Cordero at Exeter.“