NZ Rugby World Tournament Guide - - CON­TENTS -

France haven’t the first clue what they are do­ing...which might make them deadly.

France have been sham­bolic un­der the coach­ing of Philippe Saint-An­dré and while it is never wise to be­lieve they are a spent force, few can see how a rab­bit can be pulled put of this par­tic­u­lar hat. MICHEL ESTI­ENNE re­ports.


French head coach Philippe Saint-An­dré will ar­rive in the UK with the worst record in French rugby his­tory: 15 wins in 37 games. ‘PSA’ is the only man­ager to never have brought his team to the podium of the Six Na­tions dur­ing his time. Not even once. ‘PSA bash­ing’ is all the rage in France…

So much so that for­mer French star full­back and vice pres­i­dent of the Union (FFR) Serge Blanco has had to come to the res­cue af­ter the Aus­tralian de­ba­cle in June 2014. FFR vi­cepres­i­dent in charge of top-level com­pe­ti­tion was sup­posed to re­lieve ten­sions and clear up any mis­un­der­stand­ings. There cer­tainly is a lack of clar­ity around Les Bleus be­fore the World Cup. One year on, no­body knows what Blanco’s job re­ally is. Su­per man­ager, big brother? That sit­u­a­tion did noth­ing to help PSA es­tab­lish his own au­thor­ity.


Dur­ing the Six Na­tions’ last game in Twick­en­ham, les Bleus have showed am­bi­tion. But to keep that prom­ise, Saint-An­dré will have to go against his habits. After years spent in the UK, he brought back to France the English’s rugby prag­ma­tism: de­fence, set piece, kick­ing and oc­cu­pa­tion of the cen­tre of the field are the rules he coaches by. He has of­ten re­lied on Mathieu Bastareaud’s power to pound into de­fences. Against the English, France played their old ex­pan­sive game, look­ing for space and con­stantly mov­ing the ball around. They did con­cede 55 points, but they man­aged to score no less than five tries in the tem­ple of rugby. At last, they took the mat­ter into their own hands.

Un­der Saint-An­dré, the French have come to play an ugly rugby, play­ers los­ing all will to take ini­tia­tive. Maybe Saint-An­dré thought the type of rugby that helped him win the English Premier­ship with Sale would prove just as ef­fi­cient in the in­ter­na­tional arena.


After four years of be­ing be­rated for their lack of pos­i­tive re­sults and a game that fails to raise the au­di­ence’s en­thu­si­asm, les Bleus will cer­tainly want to prove they are worth more than a medi­ocre 7th rank­ing in World rugby. With play­ers with strong char­ac­ter such as Mor­gan Parra, Thierry Dusautoir, Yoann Maestri, Pas­cal Papé, or Yoann Huget, the team is bound to be highly mo­ti­vated and will­ing to show their true colours.


Since he took of­fice, Philippe Saint-An­dré has tried no less than 82 play­ers, 43 of them never play­ing more than 5 games. He also tried 13 dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tion of half­backs. To what re­sults? Dusautoir and Yoann Maestri are the only un­ques­tion­able play­ers since 2012; there were some suc­cess­ful choices such as lock Yoann Maestri and loose­head Eddy Ben Arous for ex­am­ple, and some risky ones (Alexan­dre Ménini and Noa Nakaitaci). There were also se­ri­ous mis­judge­ments (Félix Le Bourhis or An­toine Guil­la­mon).


France have been through tough times, from dis­ap­point­ing re­sults to ter­ri­ble games. In 2013, af­ter a cat­a­strophic Six Na­tions, Saint-An­dré’s res­ig­na­tion was in the air. But Pierre Camou, head of the Union would not dis­charge him.


Les Bleus’ main is­sue is their per­sis­tent in­ef­fi­ciency. They do break the gain­line, but they can’t seem to be able to cross the try line as

of­ten as they should. Lack of ac­cu­racy, pa­tience or con­fi­dence. A few weeks away from the be­gin­ning of the World Cup, France have no des­ig­nated No 10.

Camille Lopez, who had started dur­ing the Novem­ber tests and the Six Na­tions, has been crossed off the list. A few ap­prox­i­mate kicks, a cou­ple of poor de­ci­sions and off he went. Frédéric Micha­lak, Jules Plis­son, François Trinh-Duc or Rémi Tales: none of them has been con­vinc­ing enough as his sub­sti­tutes. The French may turn to Mor­gan Parra as first five-eighth, as they did dur­ing the 2011 fi­nal.

Another weak­ness is Mathieu Bastareaud. Not that he is not good enough. On the con­trary. He has been the only an­swer to ev­ery prob­lem the team has come across. The mas­sive Toulon cen­tre has crushed count­less de­fen­sive lines, but has also dras­ti­cally re­duced the team’s game op­tions. His for­mi­da­ble size is not con­ducive to bring­ing the game to­wards the wings. If the French want to play a more am­bi­tious and ex­pan­sive game, they have to rely less on Bastareaud.

Last but cer­tainly not least, France need to ad­dress their poor stats when it comes to penalty kick­ing. A weak­ness that could be fa­tal at such level of com­pe­ti­tion. And a headache for Saint-An­dré : “It’s been a prob­lem for some time now. Should I swap a good player for a good kicker? I won­der.”


France have al­ways had heavy and pow­er­ful packs. Which is an un­de­ni­able as­set for a team to feel se­cure in their game. With the ex­cep­tion of the last rather crazy game against Eng­land this year, France have shown ex­cel­lent and rig­or­ous de­fense with Dark De­stroyer Thierry Dusautoir and Bernard Le Roux as for­mi­da­ble tack­lers and poach­ers. Mauls are a par­tic­u­lar area of ex­per­tise for Les Bleus also.


The French are no strangers to ‘palace coups’. If they start slowly in the com­pe­ti­tion, they may be tempted to pull the rug from un­der their coach. Saint-An­dré’s tac­ti­cal fee­ble­ness doesn’t sit well with some of the more se­nior play­ers.

His au­thor­ity over the group is shaky at best. Toulouse coach Guy Noves’ nom­i­na­tion in re­place­ment af­ter the World cup has made things worse. Noves is seen as some kind of Mes­siah who will make ev­ery­thing al­right again for Les Bleus.

Will Saint An­dre be able to fi­nally de­cide on a first XV? He has been a volatile coach in terms of se­lec­tion. He used 34 dif­fer­ent play­ers dur­ing the 2015 Six Na­tions. As a re­sult, the team lacks the cer­tain­ties and au­to­matic re­flexes nec­es­sary to go far into the com­pe­ti­tion.


Dur­ing the Six Na­tions, the team found their lead­ers. The bal­ance re­mains frag­ile though. Thierry Dusautoir is the in­dis­putable leader of the team with 51 cap­tain­cies. He stands for a cer­tain sense of duty and sac­ri­fice. For a long time, Dusautoir seemed quite iso­lated in that role. The only other player with such aura and im­pact was lock Pas­cal Papé. Ni­co­las Mas, ex­pe­ri­enced tight­head, has proved he could be a pre­cious as­set for the team in terms of team cul­ture. Lock Yoann Maestri, Saint-An­dré’s most used player has what it takes to be­come next France cap­tain.

OPEN UP: The French have lost

much of their flair.

IN­SPI­RA­TIONAL: Thierry Dusautoir is a bril­liant player and leader.

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