It’s a period of transition for the French rugby as they begin their Six Nations with a new coach, backroom team and more importantly a new philosophy for French rugby.
New head coach Phillipe Saint-André’s goal for the coming Six Nations is consistency in the team’s performances, something French rugby has struggled to comprehend.
Outgoing coach Marc Lievremont was an erratic, sulky and complex character, who never had the respect of his players, the French public or the media. This led to discontent in the squad and during the last World Cup that simmering disharmony rumbled to the surface when Damien Traille publicly criticised Lievremont for a lack of communication.
Imanol Harinordoquay also claimed the ex-coach was ‘lost’ during the finals; a mutiny ensued in the camp and the players took the campaign into their own hands, almost collecting a winner’s medal for their efforts.
Saint-André’s appointment is viewed by some as long overdue after the former Sale and Toulon coach lost out to Lievremont for the post in 2007, despite having more coaching experience.
Unlike his predecessor, who despite leading the French to one Grand Slam title and a World Cup final appearance was never at ease with his role and squad, Saint-André has already garnished the respect of his players and enters this job with a recognised coaching pedigree and professionalism second to none. He has already warned his troops he expects them to work hard in training and will pick players on form.
Team wise, Saint-Andre has stuck with 17 members of the squad which got France to the World Cup final in New Zealand last October, but there are no places for Clermont Auvergne lock Julien Pierre, Stade Toulousain full-back Clement Poitrenaud or Montpellier flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo, however.
However, he has raised some eyebrows by including disgraced prop David Attoub in the starting XV. Nevertheless, he has also included in-form debutantes Toulouse man-mountain Yoann Maestri and exciting Clermont centre Wesley Fofana, which proves his team-selecting mantra. Attoub was banned for a total of 70 weeks after an eye-gouging incident against Ulster in 2009 and has been drafted in due to Luc Ducalon’s lack of match fitness.
Saint-André has pin pointed the set-piece being at the core of his rugby game plan and current IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir is the rock the settled and experienced pack is built on. France’s only real concern is who does PSA pick in the half-back positions, something which could determine their Championship if gets the combination right or wrong.
France finished second in last year’s Championship thanks in no part to Lievremont’s trademark inconsistency and PSA will hope to rid French rugby of this frustration, during this Six Nations.
Prediction: First but no slam. First up for the French is a home tie against the Italians and revenge will be on the cards after they tasted defeat in Rome last year. Next is Ireland at home and, along with England at home, France will fancy their chances to take the Championship. Expect their trip to the Millennium stadium, on March 17, to be a winner-take-all encounter between France and Wales.
Fact: In recent years, France appears to do well in even years – 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010 they were champions.
4 Feb: v Italy at Stade de France (14:30 GMT)
11 Feb: v Ireland at Stade de France (20:00 GMT)
26 Feb: v Scotland at Murrayfield (15:00 GMT)
11 March: v England at Stade de France (15:00 GMT)
17 March: v Wales at Millennium Stadium (14:45 GMT)
Nicolas Mas, Thomas Domingo, Luc Ducalcon, Sylvain Marconnet, William Servat, Guilhem Guirado, Lionel Nallet, Julien Pierre, Pascal Papé, Jérôme Thion, Thierry Dusautoir, Julien Bonnaire, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Sébastien Chabal, Alexandre Lapandry, Imanol Harinordoquy. Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili, François Trinh-Duc, David Skrela, Damien Traille, Yannick Jauzion, Maxime Mermoz, David Marty, Aurélien Rougerie, Vincent Clerc, Yoann Huget, Alexis Palisson, Maxime Médard, Clément Poitrenaud.