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France pay price for deep-rooted problems

2015-10-18 15:26
Philippe Saint-Andre (AP)

Cardiff - France left the World Cup humiliated after a 62-13 spanking by New Zealand on Saturday and there is little to suggest that Les Bleus will reclaim their status as one of the top rugby nations anytime soon.

Former Toulouse manager Guy Noves, whose attacking philosophy led his club to four European Cup and 10 league titles, is taking over from the conservative Philippe Saint-Andre.

A jammed club calendar and a super powerful French league have turned the national squad into an ordinary side who have failed to beat New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland or Wales in four years.

"With only three (consecutive) months of preparation together every four years, it's complicated, the gap is increasing," Saint-Andre told reporters after France suffered their ninth consecutive defeat against the All Blacks.

France had a decent World Cup record thanks to lengthy preparations before the tournament, but the backlog has accumulated and their weaknesses have been exposed.

Under Saint-Andre, France even struggled to compete with the best European nations, finishing the Six Nations in fourth place on three occasions, even ending up with the wooden spoon once.

His permanent tinkering, especially with his halfbacks -- he tried out 17 different starting combinations -- and his cautious approach of the game did not help but the reasons for France's failure are more profound.

"We believed we could do it with our preparation, that we would be able to make up for the lost time," said lock Pascal Pape, who is heading into international retirement.

"But I think the problem is much deeper, we're in a system with a (club) championship where you have to play 40 games a year. What happened tonight shows that when you play against a team whose players have played 20 games in the year you can't compete.

"The national team comes last. It is time that everyone in French rugby sits around a table and make the France team a priority.

"If this does not happen the next coach will face the same problems."

New Zealand's five Super Rugby teams play between 16 and 19 matches a season, some involving long trips to South Africa and back, but senior All Blacks were all spared two of those matches this year at the insistence of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Several key players such as flyhalf Dan Carter and flanker Richie McCaw, both in their thirties, have also been granted six-month sabbaticals from rugby over the last couple of years in an attempt to extend their careers at the top of the game.

France technical director Didier Retiere had warned that even if they have a World Cup culture, Les Bleus were on a slippery slope.

"What is striking is that we've had the same problems with (coaches) Jean-Claude Skrela, Bernard Laporte, Marc Lievremont and now Philippe Saint-Andre," he told Reuters last March.

"We've been struggling to have a team able to perform at the international level on a regular basis. The environment does not help. The players are not prepared as they should be."

The Top 14 being the most competitive league in the northern hemisphere, other nations are sending top players to develop there, meaning French young talents find it harder to emerge.

"Our youngsters have to fight for their place against them -- so they don't play much. We're the only country in this situation," said Retiere.

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