The Six Nations launch is a curious affair where the Six Nations coaches and captains congregate to answer largely hypothetical questions in a courteous manner that skirts even the merest whiff of acrimony: in some respects the civility appears an extension of the genteel surroundings of the Hurlingham private members club.
Against that backdrop of bonhomie, French coach Philippe Saint Andre offered a very honest appraisal of his three years as national team coach having taken over from Marc Lievremont after the 2011 World Cup and how if differs from a club coaching position.
He specifically highlighted the occasionally fraught relationship with the French Top 14 clubs who are subjective in their management of players and how it differs from
and the manner in which the IRFU centrally contract and therefore control the national pool of players.
He chose to highlight the case of Paul O'Connell and Yoann Maestri to support his argument. "No it is not a clear advantage just that their structure and organisation is controlled by their Federation (union).
"With that system, they play in Europe, (but it is in total) just 25 games (in a season). There was a comparison between the captain of Ireland (Paul O'Connell) and Yoann Maestri (French secondrow). One was playing 22, 23 games a year, the other 36, 37 games a year. It's completely different.
"Imagine me going to speak to Guy Noves (Toulouse coach) or Bernard Laporte (Toulon's director of rugby) and saying 'I want these guys off for two weeks before the Six Nations; they would laugh at me. (They would say) 'we pay him, and he needs to play for the club.'
"Because the organisation and structure is completely different, you need to cope with this, to do your best with this situation. To be honest, it is very tough to be an English coach or a French coach because of the structure of the English League, which is 12 teams and us, which is 14 teams," adding that European matches come on top.
Saint Andre continued: “It’s hard because when you put a squad together, where, you want to be competitive only to realise you have 10-12 guys injured. Three years ago, I would pick a squad, (deciding) this would be my back three but in the last match of the Top 14 (before the international) you have six guys out and after you have to change everything.
“Now I just pick a squad and say wait and see and I will make my mind when I have the guys with me. When one is injured another guy will have the opportunity. You need to have a different attitude, a different philosophy than when you are coach of a club.
“There you can organise, you can (put in) structure, you can pick your own team. (With the national team) you take who you have available and that’s been the way for the last three years. The World Cup is completely different to the Six Nations; there is a lot of time with all the guys together, being in camp, and (that allows you) to have a completely different attitude to competition.”
When asked whom he thought were favourites for the Six Nations the former French wing admitted: “When you see the ranking you must say Ireland. They are third in the (world) ranking. You know how close it was against us last year. We miss a kick from in front of the posts; Ireland won and we finished fourth.
"It's tough; two games at home three games away. We will have a go, the spirit is good and the guys have a lot of confidence. In our first game against Italy in the World Cup I know we will be ready because we will have had two and a half months preparation together. It will be a completely different story."
Until then he must muddle through. One player he expects to face at the Aviva is Jonathan Sexton. "I hear he will be available for this game. He didn't play for so many weeks for Racing but I'm sure he will be fully fit to play against us. If the coach picks him it is because he's ready. Medically he will be given the all clear to play. I hear he is training very, very hard and this will help his fitness. I am sure he will be fit for our game."