After the implosion against Wales in the first round of the Six Nations, French confidence is low ahead of visit to Twickenham
France feeling the heat ahead of England match
The post-mortem in France following Friday’s demoralising Six Nations defeat by Wales has been painful and protracted, and England’s stunning victory in Dublin has only sharpened the sense of foreboding ahead of Sunday’s clash at Twickenham.
Jacques Brunel’s record now reads nine defeats in 12 Tests since he replaced Guy Noves as coach in December 2017, and he looked all his 65 years when he faced the media after that Wales match.
There are some who question whether he should remain in his post but FFR president Bernard Laporte ruled out replacing Brunel when he was interviewed on French radio on Sunday evening.
“We changed the coach a little over a year ago because we felt that things weren’t going very well,” said Laporte. “We can’t say that they are going much better today. But it would be difficult and certainly dangerous to make new changes.”
Laporte’s own reputation, of course, is also at stake. It was he who sacked Noves, after the former Toulouse coach produced a return of seven wins in 21 matches during two years in charge. That saga has yet to be concluded with Noves and Laporte scheduled to come face to face at an industrial tribunal next week as the former coach pursues his claim for financial compensation.
Before then Laporte has another enemy to confront: the English. He coached France to their last Six Nations victory at Twickenham 14 years ago, but Laporte doesn’t sound confident about les Bleus’ chances for the rest of the championship.
“When one loses the first match at home, it’s difficult to speak about victory even if mathematically it’s still possible,” he said.
He is similarly downbeat about September’s World Cup when France, drawn in the same pool as England and Argentina, face the prospect of failing to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
“I wouldn’t bet my house in saying that it’s sure we are going to be world champions,” he conceded. “We’re not favourites, certainly, but our team has potential, and with a little bit of luck anything is possible.”
France have been in a downward spiral for a decade and the upshot is a decline in player numbers and a fall in paying spectators. More than 20,000 of the Stade de France’s 81,000 seats were empty on Friday, and Laporte wasn’t surprised.
“We have a French team which no longer makes us dream, and it’s been the case for practically ten years,” he said. “We must rediscover the way to victory because it’s the shop window of our sport.”
For Olivier Magne, a member of four Grand Slam-winning French sides between 1997 and 2007, drastic measures are required. “The question is do we have the right players in the French team to produce a winning rugby?” he asked Midi Olympique on Monday. “For me, it’s no. Without hesitation, we must really turn the page.”
Magne believes that Brunel must discard a generation of players who have known only defeat. “We don’t have the players capable of sustaining 80 minutes of maximum intensity,” he said. “Then there’s the mental aspect. At the first setback, these players collapse psychologically… This generation of players has been associated with defeat for too long. It’s pretty disastrous for our rugby because they are deeply traumatised.”
Magne believes Brunel has nothing to lose by blooding a new generation that is unburdened by failure, including many of the U20 squad that won the World Championship last summer.
“Give priority to the youngsters who have proved their worth,” he advocates. “Where’s the risk? So we lose matches. It would not be any worse… People have had enough of seeing the same despondent faces at the end of the match, hearing the same words.”
Magne wants nothing short of a rugby revolution, as do an increasing number of French fans, whose side are now tenth in the world rankings after Friday’s second-half fiasco.
Read Gavin Mortimer’s report on the current state of French rugby in Rugby World’s March 2019 issue – out now.
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