Wounded France will be doing their utmost to avoid defeat
France's head coach Philippe Saint-Andre (left) reacts next to assistant coach Patrice Lagisquet during a training session in Marcoussis, south of Paris. yesterday. photograph: franck fife/afp/getty images)
With France suddenly finding themselves in a battle to avoid the Six Nations wooden spoon, it was Nicolas Mas who best summed up feelings ahead of their trip to Ireland. The French squad, he said, did not want “to look like idiots”.
It was a common theme at the French headquarters in Marcoussis this week as the players, so used to fighting for titles, were forced to consider the possibility of finishing last in the championship.
A fourth defeat from four games was “difficult to conceive”, according to centre Florian Fritz, who said France need to win in Dublin at all costs.
Francois Trinh-Duc stressed no one wants to be ridiculed, while Wesley Fofana said it was the frustration that comes with defeat – rather than doubts about their game – that had dominated French minds.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre joined many of his players yesterday in admitting that at this stage the manner of a victory – if and when it comes – will be unimportant.
The last time France propped up the table was in 1999, when they lost all the matches that followed their opening win in Dublin.
Back then they were beaten at home by eventual champions Scotland on the last day, and they welcome the Scots to Paris again next week.
Defeat against Ireland, though, would leave France in danger of losing all their matches in this tournament for the first time since 1957.
For veterans like Mas, who has seen the country win three Six Nations titles and finish runners up in the World Cup during a 10-year international career, it is an unusual position to be in.
Honour of the jersey
“We’re playing for the honour of the jersey and the nation,” the Perpignan prop said when asked how the team were motivating themselves.
“You can’t forget that as soon as you wear the jersey, you have to perform.
“We have to give everything and then we’ll see what the result will be. But at the very least we have to get stuck in and not come out of this game feeling ashamed.
“There’s honour, there’s pride, there are plenty of things [to motivate us] . . . We don’t want to look like idiots.”
Like the rest of his team, the 32-year-old is trying to take this match in isolation rather than contemplating the consequences of a fourth straight defeat.
“It would be hard if we lost again. Against England, we played well despite the defeat. We’re going to travel with a lot of hunger even if we know it’s always very difficult to play against Ireland over there.
“ We can’t put ourselves under that kind of pressure – we have to be positive.”
On Monday an editorial in French rugby newspaper Midi Olympique debated whether getting the wooden spoon might be a good thing in the long term, since it would force the French Rugby Federation to consider wider problems in French rugby. But despite the building pressure, Yannick Nyanga says the management have not been effected.
“The French team is not the first that they’ve coached,” the Toulouse flanker said. “Philippe Saint-Andre came from Toulon and you know that that’s no bed of roses. Yannick Bru came from Toulouse and has experienced crises there . . . and Patrice Lagisquet had his share at Biarritz.
“There’s no crisis here anyway. And if we have to take this route to get to our goal, we’ll take it. It will allow us to toughen up the squad.
“A true defeat is to go backwards and to give up. Adversity, defeats – I think they make you stronger. And I think we’re all convinced of that within the squad.”
Saint-Andre has once again turned to Frédéric Michalak at number 10 and the Toulon player says this is the most trying period he’s experienced at international level.
“We’re competitors and we want to win every match but we’re on a run of three defeats so, inevitably, that weighs on us. There’s a loss of confidence and the morale is a bit lower. But we’re here to support each other too.
“Of course it’s difficult. But that’s sport. You have to know how to question yourself and that’s what we’ve done.”