As we do after every major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, France!
As we do after a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, France!
Having gone from reaching the World Cup Final to finishing fourth in the Six Nations Championship, France's campaign, and the start of the Philippe Saint-AndrÃ© era, must be considered a failure. At this level only results count and just a single win in three home games is – in the coach's own words – “very mediocre.”
That said, it could so easily have been a very different story. France's fate largely hinged on a handful of missed drop-goal attempts that would have brought victory over both Ireland and England and led to a Grand Slam showdown with Wales.
But the very fact that les Bleus were left to rely on last-gasp drop-goals to try to snatch victory in Paris tells a story in itself. Some unimaginative tactics and dubious selections left French fans felling more than a little frustrated.
The rebuilding process that started in October last year for many countries was – understandably – put on hold as Saint-AndrÃ© looked to build on the base established by the group that returned from New Zealand having come within inches of claiming the world crown.
In their first three games the XV de France started at a snail's pace and were forced to rely on their ultra-experienced bench to launch a comeback in the second period.
A fourth lethargic start in as many games proved too much and defeat to the English signaled the true start of the 'new' era.
But the subsequent 80 minutes in Cardiff raised more questions than answers. Les Bleus finished the game with a fly-half at full-back, a centre on the wing, a scrum-half at fly-half and everyone wondering what direction France are taking.
To be fair, PSA and his coaching staff brought a new system into an old squad and will require a certain amount of time for adaptation, but England proved what can be done in a short space of time when you start with a clean slate.
So where to now? This Six Nations brought down the curtain on the careers of William Servat, Julien Bonnaire and Lionel Nallet. Another large chuck of the team's core – AurÃ©lien Rougerie (31), Dimitri Yachvili (32), Jean-Baptiste Poux (32), Nicolas Mas (32 ), Vincent Clerc (31) – are all unlikely to feature at the 2015 World Cup and the coaching staff have already hinted that we'll probably see a new crop on the tour of Argentina in June.
The good news is that there is no lack for quality resources as shown by youngsters Wesley Fofana, Yoann Maestri and Jean-Marcellin Buttin (and it's worth noting that the Fabien Pelous-coached U20 team won four of their five Six Nations games).
The biggest problem area – as it is for many other countries – is at fly-half. Marc LiÃ¨vremont's criticism of FranÃ§ois Trinh-Duc's limitations are well documented but the one-dimensional Lionel Beauxis seems to be a step in the wrong direction.
You can't win a World Cup without a world-class pivot and France are struggling to find a solution as most of the country's top clubs have foreigners (Contepomi, Wilkinson, McAlister, James, Hernandez, Hook…) directing their backlines.
Trinh-Duc is likely to remain in the mix (as he should) but expect to see a few new faces in the squad heading to Argentina, which will be named on May 25 .
By Ross Hastie