If France can keep it con­sis­tent on the pitch, then the world is at their feet

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

SACRÉ BLEU! The French are ev­ery­where in Cape Town this week­end and, as al­ways with them, there’s glo­ri­ous mad­ness in the air.

The day the Gauls fi­nally get their act to­gether the rest of the world can for­get about win­ning any­thing on ei­ther the soc­cer or the rugby pitch.

The tal­ent they pos­sess in both codes is as­ton­ish­ing and there’s no short­age of coach­ing brains (Arsène Wenger and Philippe Saint-An­dré are two out­stand­ing ex­am­ples) but the recipe for con­sis­tent sport­ing suc­cess is one of the few French culi­nary fail­ures.

On the foot­ball field it took them 68 long years to win a World Cup, along the way some­how squan­der­ing the su­perb 1980s mid­field of Pla­tini, Giresse, Ti­gana and Fer­nan­dez.

Their soli­tary tri­umph on home soil in 1998 was fol­lowed by a shame­ful first round de­par­ture in 2002 with­out scor­ing a sin­gle goal.

They bounced back to reach the fi­nal in 2006, only for Zine­dine Zi­dane to go head­but­tingly bonkers, and the whole thing ended in tears again. This time round they needed the in­fa­mous ‘Hand Of Frog’ to qual­ify.

In rugby, Les Tri­col­ores have won the two best World Cup games in his­tory – the epic semi-fi­nals against the Wal­la­bies in 1987 and the All Blacks in 1999 – and then butchered both of the sub­se­quent fi­nals.

They dom­i­nate the Six Na­tions and Euro­pean club com­pe­ti­tions and they’ve had some mighty tri­umphs down the years over the Boks, yet they al­ways seem as likely to ship fifty points as they are to score them.

I sup­pose a lot de­pends on which side of the bed they get out of or maybe, be­ing French, whose bed they get out of.

They also spe­cialise in ap­point­ing ec­cen­tric coaches who can make Peter de Vil­liers seem like a model of bal­ance and lu­cid­ity.

The cur­rent soc­cer boss Ray­mond Domenech is a walk­ing soap opera and the pre­vi­ous rugby supremo, Bernard Laporte, was a flam­boy­ant fast talker who sub­se­quently spent a con­tro­ver­sial spell in Pres­i­dent Sarkozy’s cabi­net. (Hope­fully De Vil­liers and Ja­cob Zuma don’t get any ideas).

Much of the prob­lem lies in se­lec­tion which the French sel­dom get right in ei­ther soc­cer or rugby, pos­si­bly be­cause of the huge amount of tal­ent they have to choose from.

They’re con­stantly spurn­ing su­per­stars and tin­ker­ing, es­pe­cially in their rugby back­line where a fly­half will excel on de­but then im­me­di­ately be dropped and re-ap­pear three games later on the wing or at scrum-half.

The wor­ry­ing thing is that the man in charge of Les Bleus at New­lands this af­ter noon, Marc Lievre­mont, ap­pears to be dif­fer­ent. His side has just won a con­fi­dent Grand Slam and they are build­ing in a calm and mea­sured way to­wards the World Cup in New Zealand, a coun­try which, uniquely among north­ern hemi­sphere na­tions, holds no rugby fears for them.

They can do the grunt­work, kick Stey­nian dis­tances and run. The French ur­gently need to be klapped back into chaos and dis­unity to­day or they could be big trou­ble next year.

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