England are favourites РSaint-Andr̩

Date published: January 24 2013

France coach Philippe Saint-André believes that England are favourites for the Six Nations following their victory over New Zealand.

France coach Philippe Saint-André believes that England are favourites for the Six Nations after their victory over New Zealand.

Les Bleus are many people's tip for the title after four consecutive victories during the November Internationals, but Saint-André was quick to deflect the attention away from his side by acknowledging England's effort against the All Blacks and their three home fixtures.

“We need to be honest – with the performance they put in against New Zealand and three matches at home, England are the favourites,” said Saint-André.

“Our target is to do better than last year and I think we are outsiders – French people love to be outsiders so we are happy with that.”

Pascal Papé has been chosen to lead the French side with Thierry Dusautoir still returning from injury, with Saint-André praising Papé's relationship with the younger players in the national squad.

“Pascal did a great job in November, winning four consecutive matches, plus Thierry [Dusautoir] was injured until a few weeks ago so it gives him time to focus on himself and to get back his form,” added Saint-André.

“With Pascal, what you see is what you get. He gels well with the young players but they also respect him – he has a lot of charisma and the spirit of the team is very important.

“Thierry is a fantastic captain but with a new group of players coming in Pascal did a great job, so I think it's fair to carry on with him.

“Thierry will play this week on Friday so for him as with all the players we will keep out fingers crossed for no more injuries. He's in the squad of 33 and we have three days together from Saturday to Monday and then we will see if he makes the 23.”

France have less preparation time than any other side in the tournament, a regulation that Saint-André bemoaned, highlighting the example of England's Elite Player Squad agreement as the best way forward.

“It's frustrating. We need to try to be as focused as possible in the few days that we have – but I think we have fantastic potential. We showed this in November, but for the Six Nations it is like running the 100 metres and starting ten metres behind everybody else,” he added.

“Between the league, the Federation and the players – we need to look after our best 33/34 players like England do. Although Bernard Laporte said the same thing and so did Marc Lièvremont, so for the next coach after me perhaps everything will be in place.

“On Monday night we will try and pick the side that we feel are in the best shape physically and mentally. The problem for French rugby is consistency – winning four matches in November was a big achievement – but we start with a tough game against Italy.

“They are a good side and they were unlucky to lose against Australia in November.”

With a squad packed full of young talent including Wesley Fofana, Brice Dulin, Jocelino Suta and more, captain Papé believes the new generation can be very successful.

“I hope that this new generation will do well,” said Papé.

“They have a lot of spirit and ambition and I'm happy to guide them in the right direction. There's not a lot of difference between the younger players and older guys – we all play our role and I'm not worried about them.”

Two familiar faces will be returning to the French squad however in Frédéric Michalak and Matheu Bastareaud, with both players in good form according to Saint-André.

“Frédéric brings a lot of flair but also experience,” stated Saint-André.

“He is still a young man and it helped him to have a good pre-season in South Africa, which is something we do not have in France due to 11 months of competition.

“He is playing scrum-half for Toulon but I will pick him at fly-half for France. In the Top 14 you have Jonny Wilkinson, Luke McAlister, Brock James and so on, so you need to find a fly-half.

“Fly-halves are like good French wine – the older you are the better you are. He has slowly matured and just become a Dad and now his rugby is completely different.

“In November he was just happy to be part of the team and play with the guys around him and he did fantastically well. We have Francois Trinh-Duc as well, so we have options, but Frédéric played very well in November.

“Mathieu is in a team with plenty of competition, he has improved his fitness and is starting to play well for Toulon.

“We have a lot of competition at centre with Maxime Mermoz, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz and Bastareaud but now he is playing well for his club he deserves to be back in the squad. As for whether Fofana will play wing or centre – he is a good footballer!”

by Ben Coles