Saint-André blames Top 14

Date published: June 23 2014

Les Bleus coach Philippe Saint-André has blamed France's domestic league set for his side's dismal performances in Australia.

Les Bleus coach Philippe Saint-André has pointed a finger at the France's domestic league set up as an excuse for his side's dismal performances in Australia.

Saint-André is running out of time to address his team's shortcomings ahead of next year's World Cup after their series whitewash Down Under.

The Wallabies' 39-13 victory in Sydney on Saturday brought an end to another difficult season for France, which also featured a 4th placed finish in the Six Nations, and Saint-André is frank about his side's current predicament.

“At the moment we are seventh (in the IRB rankings) and given our results, that is probably where we deserve to be,” said the coach.

A year after a whitewash in New Zealand, France were outclassed physically, technically and tactically in two of the three Test matches Down Under.

The 6-0 defeat in the second Test provided some respite but the French camp admit that at present they cannot compete with the best in the world, especially at the end of an 11 month season.

France continually struggled, particularly with ball in hand, and were overwhelmed by the Wallabies' intensity.

The narrow defeat in Melbourne was thanks to their sheer will and desire to preserve their honour, but on Saturday, there was nothing left in the tank.

“The group continues to show incredible solidarity because given the run we've been on, that could have disappeared completely,” claimed Saint-André.

However, he was less complimentary about French domestic rugby, again lamenting the negative effect of the Top 14 on his international side.

The demanding and wealthy clubs, who have also overseen the influx of foreign players into the league at the expense of many young French players, have not made Saint-André's job easier. Those he selects are often exhausted, while the talent pool at his disposal is drying up.

“We're suffering from this set up,” he complained.

“France is the only place where the league is more important than everything else.

“What worries me is that we're getting more and serious injuries” he continued.

“If we don't realise that top players shouldn't play more than 28-30 games a year, we're going to keep having problems.”

However, if the Top 14 poses problems, it also acts as an useful scapegoat, with Saint-André rarely accepting responsibility for questionable management and defensive tactics.

A potentially more perverse effect of his complaints, however, revolves around his ability to motivate his players whilst continually claiming that he doesn't have the firepower to compete at this level.

As is often the case, France's fortunes could improve come the World Cup, but with 11 matches between now and then, is this French side capable of winning it in its current state?

Saint-André thinks so, believing his side will prove it in this November's internationals.

“In November, with the players fresh and with lots more preparation time, we will be capable of matching Australia and dominating them like in 2012 (33-6 victory),” he said.

The 47-year-old also believes that competition for places will help his side improves when he chooses his next squad, which could include South African-born scrum-half Rory Kockott who will become eligible for France in July.

“Competition for every position will give the players more motivation and make them work harder as they try to secure their place,” he said.

“We have a group of 38-40 players and could maybe add a couple more. We have 11 matches between now and the World Cup and every second counts.”