The Sunday Telegraph - Sport
Ntamack helps to put a smile back on face of Les Bleus
Scots are the latest side to face the increasing threat posed by young Toulouse fly-half, writes Ben Coles
In the aftermath of France’s first win in Cardiff for a decade, Romain Ntamack came up with a nice line to sum up the confidence bursting out of this young side. “We have no experience, but we play with a smile.”
Prior to the Six Nations, the battle to start at fly-half was supposed to be wide open. Matthieu Jalibert had returned from a serious injury and Louis Carbonel had also been making a big impression. All three No10s were born within six months of one another. Removing Ntamack, the youngest of the trio, from the fly-half role now looks an impossible task.
Ntamack’s intercept try against Wales, picking off Nick Tompkins’s pass, was crucial. His anticipation and execution were close to perfect, racing away for a try in a one-point game, the importance of it summed up by a trailing Wales hooker Ken Owens throwing up his arms in frustration.
It was the sort of finish out wide that Ntamack’s father, the great France wing Emile, who scored 26 tries in 46 Tests, might have produced.
“We forget sometimes, but Romain is just 20. When you are 20 you need just one thing: experience. You need to play a lot of games,” Ntamack senior told the BBC. “And sometimes you maybe need things to go the wrong way, to learn. You won’t like it, but sometimes you have no choice. You have to fall to rise again.”
Dupont and Ntamack have already tasted pain at Test level, with the 44-8 hammering France took at Twickenham last year followed by narrowly missing out on a place in the semi-finals at the World Cup.
But so far for Ntamack, the positive experiences outweigh the negative. He is already a champion in France, after Toulouse’s first Top 14 triumph for seven years last summer in the final against Clermont.
A superb playmaker, capable of switching between fly-half and inside centre with ease, his tackling, kicking and speed are all strong. However, his intricate passing game, ripping open defences, looks his greatest quality.
Alongside Antoine Dupont, both Toulouse and France have a half-back combination for the next decade.
“Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack meet our expectations perfectly. The team is winning so they continue,” Fabien Galthie, the France head coach, said this week.
It was against Scotland in 2019 that Ntamack got his first Test try, on his first start at fly-half. Gregor Townsend and his side know how big a threat he will pose today at Murrayfield.