Maxime Lucu passed his test against Italy with flying colours as Les Bleus stormed into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, and his association with flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert proved lethal in the absence of Antoine Dupont.
The mercurial scrumhalf, who suffered a broken cheekbone two weeks ago, is expected to know on Monday after visiting his doctor whether he is allowed to play in next Sunday’s quarter-finals at the Stade de France.
While Dupont’s absence would be a blow, coach Fabien Galthie can be confident his halfbacks will be able to deliver, as Lucu showed in the 60-7 demolition of the Azzurri on Friday that he could cope.
His quick, clean releases gave Jalibert – the two were supposed to form the replacement halfback – the time and space to shine. Lucu’s Bordeaux-Begles club partner delivered a sterling performance, scoring a splendid try and setting up three.
Risk-taker Jalibert, who has been showing that he was much more than a replacement for the injured Romain Ntamack, produced the magic on an electric, noisy night in Lyon.
“It was the perfect pair for the perfect match,” former France coach Pierre Berbizier told sports daily L’Equipe on Saturday.
Winger Louis Bielle-Biarrey, who scored his fifth international try in six caps, was in awe. “Matthieu is a player who performs especially well when his team is playing forward,” he said.
“Our forwards played a great game, and that’s what put him in a position to express all the talent he’s known for. When he gets space like that, we know he’s one of the best in the world. And for him, it’s easier to express himself with all the good players around him.”
“We need to look at the match again because there are still things we need to work on. We were able to put our game together and play in the areas we’ve been working on in training. That’s positive and we’re satisfied,” said Jalibert, his sober words in sharp contrast to his flamboyance on the field.
Lucu is not the most spectacular player, but his kicking game is flawless and the 30-year-old rarely disappoints. Having him start in the last eight with Dupont, if he is not ready to play 80 minutes, would be a more-than-decent option.
“We have been preparing for these scenarios where we lose players to injuries. We’ve lost Romain (Ntamack), Paul Willemse and now we have (hooker) Julien Marchand and Antoine Dupont sidelined,” Galthie said.
“But they are with us. We’re a squad of 33 and the 33 players are going forward together. You can count on us to go forward together.”
Next up for France are South Africa, Ireland or Scotland, with the defending champions the most likely opponents.
Galthie labelled the game a “second World Cup final” after the opening Pool A victory against New Zealand, and Jalibert went even further.
“Of course, it’s a second World Cup starting, with three finals to win in order to go all the way,” he said.
“It’s a new competition, life or death. It’s very exciting. We’ve prepared very hard for this. We’re where we wanted to be.”