Parallel Universe

Montpellier and Castres will be in action this weekend against Irish opposition; both at the same time in fact, which is very convenient for those who might have a passing interest in both matches.

Montpellier pose a significant threat to Ulster’s hopes of qualification.  They’re a beastly team with a mean pack of forwards and when they bring their A game they’re as unplayable as the best French sides.  They never quite bring the same energy on the road with them, but hey, plus ca change, plus ca meme chose and all that.  Hey Gerry, get off our typewriter!

The way the French typically set up their back five and operate their lineout is very different to Irish teams.  Their second rows are designed primarily with scrummaging and mauling in mind, with a side order of lifting – yes, lifting, not jumping – in the lineout.  In the winter months, the Top Quatorze turns into a slog, invariably decided by penalties, so having a hefty scrum to milk the opposition for three pointers is seen as de rigeur.  So the French think nothing of picking two of what we would call ‘tighthead locks’, the oversized granite-hewn chaps that add heft to the scrum and maul.  For Ireland think Mike McCarthy or Donncha O’Callaghan, though in France Donners would probably be considered underpowered.  For the French, think classical baby-munchers like Lionel Nallet and Romain Millo-Chluski.  Both top out at 195cm, below the 1.99m mark that is almost considered minimum for the role in Ireland.  Clermont’s gruesome twosome of Jamie Cudmore and Nathan Hines are old and not particularly tall or athletic in the lineout, but bleedin’ heck, what a lot of grunt they add to the team in the tight.

This weekend Castres will line out (assuming they bring their A-team, which they probably won’t, but anyway) with Richie Gray and Uruguayan behemoth Capo Ortega in the second row.  Gray is a decent lienout jumper, in spite of his size, but don’t expect to see the burly 195cm Ortega get in the air too much.  At the weekend they won five lineouts, but only one of those won by Gray, while Ortega took none.

Same goes for Montpellier, who will have to try and get all 124kg of Jim Hamilton off the ground a few times, but the 134kg Robins Tchale-Watchou will be positively earthbound throughout.

So who catches the ball in the lineout, then?  The chaps in the backrow, that’s who.  Most French teams contain a light, athletic backrow who they can fling in the air with ease, and who runs the lineout.  The model performer in this role has been Julien Bonnaire, who has ruled the skies for eons for both France and Clermont Auvergne.  Toulouse’s unsung hero Jean Bouilhou was their lineout specialist even when Fabian Pelous was around.  Imanol Harinordoquy’s lineout skills are almost unparalleled in world rugby – some of his one-handed takes are to die for.  Montpellier’s main lineout man is the exceptionally athletic Fulgence Ouedraogo.  Though not especially tall, he has an extraordinarily springy leap and at 102kg he can be flung miles into the air.  He’ll pose Ulster massive problems at lineout time this weekend.  Each of the Castres backrow caught a lineout against Northampton and between them they stole two of Northampton’s throws.

For Ireland, picking a second row of, say, Dan Tuohy and Mike McCarthy would be unthinkable; too unbalanced.  Where’s the lineout man?  If Peter O’Mahony and Kevin McLaughlin were French, they’d probably be the main lineout callers in their teams.  Both are tall, springy and athletic and are great catchers when in the air.  More interestingly, and it’s a point Demented Mole has made before, if Tony Buckley were French he would never have been converted from the second row to prop.  At 196cm and a whopping (according to Wikipedia) 138kg, he could hardly be expected to catch much lineout ball, but that would be no barrier to success if he had the likes of Ouedraogo around him.  Buckley’s decision to convert to front row was no doubt a result of Ireland’s dearth in that area, while locks would have been in abundance.  Had those around him been able to forecast how the scrum dynamics would shift (almost impossible, unfortunately), and how important all-conquering power in the engine room would become, it would probably never have come to pass.  Buckley’s career has been mired by an inability to master the technicalities of scrummaging; in a parallel universe somewhere he’s lording it up, dishing the hurt out with his sheer bulk in the second row.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. Very interesting post lads, as usual, not something I’ve noticed before but now you say it it’s bleedin’ obvious!

    I wonder will the typical French lock change slightly now due to the depowering of the scrum to a more technical contest?

    For e.g. Toner for Leinster has been a liability at scrum in seasons past but this season our scrum has been impressive even with him in it – he’s a giant but lacks in bulk and power.
    Given his excellent performances so far this season it looks like his own consistently has improved but also, maybe more importantly, the reliance on scrum power from the locks has lessened so he’s not as drained from the scrums and able to contribute more in clearouts, etc.

  2. Jimbob

     /  October 17, 2013

    Poor old Tony Buckley. Does he even get a game at Sale now? I always thought he had great hands for a tight five player and was surprisingly mobile for such a heap. He could’ve been great as a big enforcing 2nd row.

  3. I played a bit of club rugby here, albeit at a lower level, but I can definitely attest to this. The guys in the 2nd row were between 6’2″ and 6’5″, but they were all about 17 or 18 stone…

    • That must have been terrific. We have this vision of amateur French rugby that it’s all about bragging rights over the neighbouring village, the props are gargantuan pudding-eaters and the backs prance around the pitch in pristine kit looking thoroughly sensational. Tell us, are we close to the mark?

  4. I can definitely attest to this. I played a bit of club rugby here (living in Toulouse), albeit at a low enough level, but the 2nd rows were all about 17 or 18 stone, but no bigger than 6’3″ or 6’4″….

  5. Tony Buckley is only getting back to full fitness. Fractured his leg at end of last season and should be back playing in next few weeks

  6. Tony Buckley is yet to make an appearance this season as he fractured his leg at the end of last season and not back to full fitness yet. He’s 13 starts in each of his 2 seasons with sale and is in final year of contract with them.
    Would have been a fantastic TH second row and in a different time may have been

  7. Mary Hinge

     /  October 17, 2013

    Damian Browne provided the kind of grunt you speak of for the last couple of seasons at Leinster, and has now returned to Oyonnax in the Top 14 where I’m sure they’re looking for more of same. Can’t recall him winning too much line-out ball for Leinster during his stint there, but a good man for grunt in the scrum and maul. Down west we had Warwick Waugh (legend) for a very short period back 10 odd years ago, and again I can’t recall him winning a line-out. Great man to steer a maul though!

    • Thanks Mary, yes, Damian Browne is another classic of the genre. For Leinster he appeared somewhat off the pace of how the team was trying to play, but in France his stock appears to be a good deal higher and he has racked up a good number of Top 14 appearances.

  8. Yossarian

     /  October 17, 2013

    A friend of mine played against Buckley when he was at newbridge as an 8, always maintained he should never have been moved to front row. Could have had such a different career.

  9. Yossarian

     /  October 17, 2013

    Off topic but wondering can anyone shed light on how Toulon get around the EU player rule?allowed have 2 non Europeans. Excludes ACP (African, Caribbean and pacific group of States) hard to fathom looking at their squad.

    • Kolpak? A lot of South Africans come under that rule

      • Peat

         /  October 21, 2013

        The answer is dual nationality. Without knowing the full ins and outs of their situation, I imagine a lot of their SH players either have Pacific Island or European passports – Ali Williams has a British passport for example. Same with a lot of teams – Ulster will field three kiwis for a lot of the HEC, but presumably Fat Nick has a Samoan passport to wave at them.

  10. zdm

     /  October 18, 2013

    Also of potential concern to Ulster for the second leg is that Rene Ranger is soon to arrive in Montpellier!
    Darren Cave will need a few extra eggs with breakfast before the return leg.

  11. Leinsterlion

     /  October 18, 2013

    Stuart Barnes has been reading my posts, re: defense over attack.

  12. @eoinredahan

     /  October 20, 2013

    Really great stuff lads, thanks. Far better insight than the Times or Indo.

%d bloggers like this: