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