France should not be written off as a one-trick pony unable to string together two good World Cup games on the trot, Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards warned on Tuesday.
The French, who play Wales in a World Cup semi-final on Saturday, have been labelled as a team incapable of capitalising on an impressive result the following week.
France suffered two pool losses, to New Zealand and Tonga, before surprising England 19-12 in the quarter-final, turning the formbook on its head to be 16-0 up at half-time.
But France have rarely produced two good knockout World Cup wins in succession.
A stunning semi-final victory over Australia was followed by defeat by New Zealand in the 1987 final, while two brilliant wins over the All Blacks, in 1999 and 2007, were the forerunners of losses to Australia and England in the final and semi-final respectively of those World Cups.
But Edwards insisted France had it in them to produce another good performance.
“If you look at France over the last few Six Nations tournaments, they have won it the most, so that shows they can consistently perform over five games,” the former Wigan and Great Britain rugby league star said.
“It is in the France team to be consistent.”
Edwards also played down the reputed unpredictability of the French team, saying rugby union was increasingly more structured.
“There is more structure in world rugby and it is in their game along with everybody else’s,” he said.
“Most teams play with set patterns, and I am sure their attacking coach will add different variations of certain formations and it will be up to me to second-guess what he is thinking.”
Edwards has masterminded a miserly Welsh defence that has yielded just three tries in the competition so far, including an interception try in a walloping of Namibia, and said the goal would be to continue that trend this weekend.
“What we’ve tried to do throughout the competition is improve in every game and this game will be no different,” he said.
“We’ll have to be more accurate and up the intensity because it’s the semi-final,” he added of a Wales team into the last four of a World Cup for the first time since the inaugural 1987 edition.
“First and foremost we have to make sure that if France get points against us they have to work for them,” he said, citing a couple of charge-downs in recent games that led to French tries.
“We don’t want to hurt ourselves.”
Edwards put the resurgence of the Wales team down to hard graft.
“They’ve come together and in quite a short amount of time they’ve improved rapidly,” he said.
“It’s not an accident that they’ve improved. It’s been down to hard work, strength of character, no little skill. Obviously a lot of work on the paddock, in the gym, on the running track. There’s no substitute for hard work.”
He also said the youthful nature of the team captained by 23-year-old flanker Sam Warburton meant it had no ‘fear factor’.
“They do not have any past defeats and they don’t bring any doubts in the head (about) where we lost to them two or three years ago,” he said.
“We are on the big stage now and that is where we want to be.”