- 5 Feb 07, 08:22 AM
"He's impressive with ball in hand. No doubt about it," said my co-commentator Phillip Matthews before the Italy-France game. "But he does have a tendency to drift in and out of games."
The criticism has been levelled at Chabal before and, for all his talents, Bernard Laporte has never really warmed to the giant, furry creature known affectionately by supporters of his club Sale, as 'Sea Bass'.
Incidentally, I know it's inspired by his own name, but could Chabal not have a nickname more suited to his terrifying form? It's like calling Martin Johnson 'The Monkfish'.
I know in France they call him 'The Anaesthetist', but that's not much better. Suggests a successful and respectable member of the medical profession. Scary.
Anyway, I digress. For the dreaded Sea Bass, Saturday's game may just have been a turning point.
In fact, it may have been a turning point for the whole French team.
Yes, Italy were poor, so no-one should read too much into their victory. But winning five tries to nil in Rome with an experimental side has to be applauded.
And some of the experiments clearly worked. In our infinite wisdom before the kick-off we were also questioning Laporte's decision to leave Dimitri Yachvili on the bench, preferring instead the tiny figure of Pierre Mignoni at scrum-half.
Well, if Chabal hadn't stolen the show with a couple of tries then Mignoni would certainly have been man of the match, his lack of size more than made up for in speed of hand and feet.
He and Sea Bass complimented each other beautifully. Mignoni spotting a half-gap and making the break. Then finding his big chum to finish the job. A Little and Large act for the new millennium. Except probably funnier...
The partnership between Mignoni and fly-half David Skrela also worked well enough, but there were some warning signs for France with tougher tests ahead.
Skrela's place-kicking was poor and without Yachvili in the side the responsibility for keeping the scoreboard ticking over falls entirely on him.
In far closer matches Skrela's wayward boot may prove costly. What a match now lies in store at Croke Park next Sunday. Ireland will certainly be aware of the dangers of Pierre Mignoni.
And they might well hope that Sea Bass is off the menu...