2018 Six Nations: Complex French club set-up 'difficult' for coach - Schmidt

Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale is expected to make his Six Nations debut against France
Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale is expected to make his Six Nations debut against France

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt says he has sympathy for his French counterpart Jacques Brunel ahead of the start of the 2018 Six Nations Championship.

Brunel replaced Guy Noves in December, just five weeks before their opening match against Ireland on 3 February.

Schmidt, who was previously an assistant coach at Clermont, says the French club structure makes life difficult for their national coach.

"There are more pieces of the puzzle to put together," said Schmidt.

"I do think that the clubs in France operate very independently. Obviously, having coached at a club in France for three years, we were very independent of the national set-up.

"Players would head off to the national set-up including some of our espoirs, the younger players, would go off to Under-19 camps, so there is still that connection there but there are more pieces of the puzzle to put together.

"There are 30 professional teams in France so that whole matrix is always going to be more difficult to manage, particularly when they are more independent."

France's preparations for this year's Championship have been further hampered by a series of injuries and suspensions to key players, which means Brunel may have to field a new-look team against Ireland at the Stade de France.

Scrum-half Morgan Parra and full-back Brice Dulin will both miss the opening game through injury while powerful centre Mathieu Bastareaud is serving a ban for making a homophobic remark.

In contrast, Ireland have been forced to make just one change to their original squad, with prop James Cronin replacing his Munster colleague Dave Kilcoyne for the trip to Paris.

Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale is expected to recover from a dead leg later this week and should be available for selection.

"The four provinces are interconnected within the Irish set-up and that does make it less complex for us and it does make it more likely that you can forge in a similar direction," added Schmidt.

"You only have to look at the way Connacht play versus the way Munster play versus the way Leinster or Ulster play, they're still quite different.

"So even when they do come in, there is still a diversity and I love the fact that there is that diversity because that's part of what you try to bring together and get the best out of all those different ways of playing and those individuals who play in different ways."